Bankole Okuwa, a Profesdor of Political Science, in this interview with The Issues Magazine, sheds lght on some burning issues on leadership in Nigeria. Excerpts
- How will you describe Nigeria of today ?
Well, first of all, let me tell you, Nigeria is not a nation, I am speaking strictly from the point of being a political scientist, Nigeria is not yet a nation and its leaders are not trying to make it a nation. Nigeria is a country, it has been diversified in different places, in the first place we are running a federal government and federal system that can’t be compared to any in the world. It’s just a strange arraignment, you don’t build a state by just drawing lines in a few places and making them states. The state we have created are not eligible states, our states are very weak, they can’t take care of themselves, the military that did it did not understand exactly what should be done. We should have built a union of states to make it a federal system. The best federal system we ever has was provided by 1963 Nigeria constitution. Nigerian leaders are afraid of inviting people who can advise them, they don’t respect people’s opinion; so by virtue of that, there are problems. The major problem this country has is leadership. Initially before independence, when we achieved political independence from Britain, we had good leaders, these leaders then were Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sadauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello. These people were prepared for independence, they provided leadership, they had good visions. They were not visionless leaders that we have today in Nigeria, who are for absolute enjoyment of self, they struggle to enrich themselves.
Let me take Ogun State, my State for instance, we have had great Governors here, Chief Bisi Onabanjo had one talent which I realised when I was the member of the State Assembly. Chief Onabanjo would never fail the workers on their monthly salaries, no matter how tight the economy was. He knew how to manage the economy so well; the same went for Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Bola Ige, Baba Adekunle Ajasin, Prof. Ambrose Alli and other reputable UPN leaders. They gained their experiences from the greatest political treasure we ever had (Chief Obafemj Awolowo). Ojukwu named Chief Awolowo “the best President Nigeria ever had.” There is no greater treasure politically than Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Now Awolowo is gone, so, where do we find another one? We have some people here in Nigeria, they look after themselves, if they see those that can do it, they will make it difficult for such people not to achieve it. After the civil war in 1970, there was no question about political leadership in the entire country, both in the military. Awolowo managed the civil war very well, it’s not a question of those who were victors, because the Igbo people that we were are fighting were the same Nigerians, all along, it was in the Army that all these problems started and some didn’t handle it well. If we want progress in this country, the government should come down and invite civilians who are loaded with ideas. If Awolowo had been elected president, this country would have changed dramatically for better.
- Being a political expert, what is your assessment of Buhari’s government?
Buhari government is a great disappointment to me. Muhammadu Buhari overthrew the civilian government in December 1983. Shehu Shagari was there and Buhari kicked him out. Nigeria’s politics has to do with religions, ethnicity and regions and others which define politic behavior in our country and it’s drawing this country down. The Army did it then, if you want to form a political party, you must fulfill certain conditions which was effective in the second Republic. Earlier, we had few political parties then and now we have checks and balances with political parties that belong to regions. At the moment, all our problems are centred on leadership, we have not got the right people to become leaders and when we had them, some people stood in their ways preventing them to reach that high point. That was what happened to Chief Awolowo. Politically, MKO has never had a political position in the country, he was a rich man, he used his money for all groups and every religion, he defeated his opponent in his State and Kano then in 1993. The man was about to win every state in the entire country, he was able to achieve it because there were only two political parties, it would have let him to become the President; though, the rumour has it that he has so much involvement with the military.
Imagine, IBB was then proposing to step aside, in order to return. It was an insult, who is IBB? How much enlightenment does he have in politics and leadership? They were there to enrich themselves that is why this country is not moving anywhere. I taught Buhari was going to do well by promising to fight corruption being part of his major agenda, Nigerians are so corrupt, to discover a Nigerian who is not corrupt, may be you can find one in a million. The way forward is for Nigerians to five themselves into five political parties, don’t collect any money from any political groups, people go to party meetings because of coca-cola, rice, beans, something to take home. We don’t accept, the need to suffer before we can achieve the best by closing our eyes from all these incentives and corrupt practices.
If you go to the Senate and House of Representatives chambers, you’ll meet so many people there who do not really know what they’re doing, in the first place, they’re completely naive, they have no knowledge of legislative practices, they elected them there and they just go and look; don’t you think that they deserve a kind of preparatory orientation before they can become good legislators?
Once you win the election there should be some orientation for our legislators. In many of our Universities either Ife, Nsukka, Amadu Bello, Calaba where they teach legislature and legislative process. So the moment you win your election as a legislator you go there for some orientations, may be for one month, but here in Nigeria there’s no room for such, they elected them and go straight to the chamber to make motions and mess up. They don’t know what to do, we have huge numbers of visionless and politicians in this country called Nigeria, they don’t even know what people needed until election time. I expect the Speaker, Gbajabiamila to be more experienced because the man is more exposed but what is the man doing to help other legislators to learn in order to have more knowledge? There was a Senator who committed some financial crimes, the High Court jailed him 12 years. He appealed, but to my surprise, do you know that immediately he was heard, the sentence was thrown off. While he was away, the Senate preserved his seat until he came back from the Supreme Court, if the Chief Judge could be discovered to have 5 different international and local bank accounts, these are the people that are running down our country. Imagine, a legislator who can’t write a simple motion, all these can’t help us. Our Chief Obasanjo was there for 8years as elected civilian president, mention to me one major policy that he established when he was the President which led him to improve either health or education?
I compared all these with free education in the whole West, there is no time or moment I don’t remember Chief Obafemi Awolowo, I remembered him with the truth that I can’t find a man like him in Nigeria of today. As a professor in Political science, I have my students everywhere, I taught in three big and popular American Universities where I received my professorship, that is theory, in practice, I campaigned for a political position here in Nigeria as legislator in second Republic and I was elected. During our time, the records we had was Ogun State was created in 1976, they’re no University in the state then, I told them that when our secondary school students graduate from secondary school where would they go? I moved the motion for the creation of Ogun State University. Many of my colleagues were laughing, somebody in the high position told my colleagues that what I am I saying? Is that how it’s so possible to have a University in the State? On the motion for adjournment in the house, I told them that we don’t need to build a mansion, a small room can start it, we don’t need to buy huge expanse of land like the University of Ibadan before we can achieve this goal. The University of Ibadan was a college of the University of London, they acquired many things from London, but at the moment, I see total absence of leadership that has no experience, nothing to fall back upon, those who choose independent for Nigeria were all trained oversees. Awolowo and others were trained oversees, they could perceive how a nation can be build; the major problem is that this country is high percentage of illiterates and percentage of semi-illiterate, even the literates in this country don’t know too much, so electing somebody as Governor will only go there to enrich themselves, they have properties everywhere, all the properties they have, they don’t have them before they became Governor, their logic is to get money from the bank, get elected and get the money back from the tax payers.
- In preparation towards the 2023 presidential elections, we have the rumour that Chief Bola Tinubu is aspiring for the presidential race, do you have anything to say against this?
I do not have anything against Chief Bola Tinubu, the man is indeed an experienced person, very experienced. He was trained in the United States, he knows what should be done and not, he did every well as Governor in Lagos State. I don’t know what to tell him, I can’t advise him to run or not, they did that to Abiola, they thought he wouldn’t win by the time they saw he was going to win they annulled the whole thing and Abiola died in detention. I will advise Tinubu to weigh his chances very well, I wish him every good thing in life. Tinubu has his politics, I have met about many times, his politics are; if Tinubu presented anybody, that person must be thoroughly knowledgeable to perform. All those who succeeded him in Lagos like Fashola did very well, they followed his footsteps; I am not going to criticize him for being a boss. Bosses in Nigeria is part of our culture and my advice for Tinubu is to weigh his chances very well, he is a good person, he loves Yoruba people, though many people have been saying that they don’t want him to be President.
But if he has a courage to put somebody who is knowledgeable forward, if it’s good for him he should do it, I wish him well, I have no stake in it, the man has done his best both in Federal Government, Lagos and politics. Tinubu made Lagos where it is today, all the Governors in Lagos, people were saying that Tinubu is dictatorial, if you’re in his shoe, what will you do? Chief Awolowo was dictatorial as well because he was good, you will have your bad and good.
What is your assessment of Nigeria Economy, Security and well being of the citizens?
In terms of security it’s completely zero, our culture as Africans affect our progress because if Inspector General of Police is your relation, if I were the President, and you have a Yoruba man as Inspector General of Police, then I want to pamper him? No, it shouldn’t be so, this is the duty to the people and to the state, go to our Police stations, go to our streets, I am a street man, the entire people know what is going on in the country. Buhari as a military man should call the military and the Federal Government should have pumped huge money to the military to deal with insecurity in the country. I wrote a report in 2009 on Boko Haram, the report got to the federal government then, but the Nigeria government failed to do anything on it. We are very complex in many ways, as far as this country is concerned, I hope we do well if our leaders have conscience, what they needed to do, they should go there and serve, give us free education, free health care services like what Obafemi Awolowo gave us through Cocoa.
Chief Awolowo did not build mansions anywhere but he meant the best for this nation. Can you imagine what happened to the EFCC chairman recently being accused of corruption, we are too corrupt in Nigeria, if this country wants to grow, corruption should be minimised; you cannot wipe it out completely, but to be minimised to the large extent. This is what I expected Buhari to do because he didn’t realize that he can’t do it alone, they’re a lot of things he can do to all financial institutions to checkmate all, it has to be established, you can’t transfer money outside the country, we don’t see the seriousness of building a nation, this country is not a nation but a geographical expression of several ethnic groups.
Being a former lawmaker in the State House of Assembly, in a clear terms how would you rate the operation and services of Nigeria state assembly members to their constituencies?
Today, the state Assemblies are like they don’t exist, when you win the election, those who contested for the election don’t know what they’re going to do there. There should be some kind of preparation and orientations after winning the elections. Many of our today’s assembly members don’t know anything than to raise motion and pass bills. When I was a member of the State assembly, what made it easy for me was that I read political science up to my Ph.D level and I was still teaching. Then when I discovered that a course called legislature and legislative process is not taught here; I introduced many things in Ogun State university but ever since I left, my students enjoy it. Why we can’t teach Hausa, Igbo here in Yoruba land? Why is it not in our constitutions? These are the programmes that our legislators should come out with, development can’t come from passing bills and moving motions, mental development is needed in our political system; a knowledgeable, modern, capable person should be the next president of Nigeria and he will make himself a full Nigerian who can’t be accused in many parts of the country; our politicians are not interested in that, they want their names to appear in the newspapers every day.