A former governor of Ogun State and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, spoke to BBC Yoruba on the state of the nation. DAUD OLATUNJI, who monitored the interview, brings excerpts
What was childhood like for you?
I was born in Totoro in Sokori, Abeokuta. My parents are Owu while my grandparents are Egba. I attended African Church Grammar School and had my tertiary education at the then Ogun State Polytechnic now called Moshood Abiola Polytechnic. Then I went to London for my master’s. That is my profile as Ibikunle Amosun.
At 62, would you say Nigeria is truly independent?
Although Nigeria has not got where we hope it should be, we should be thankful above all. Honestly, we mustn’t deceive ourselves that we have arrived, because obviously, all that’s happening indicates a state of dependence. Pointers such as insecurity, economic and socio-political vices in the country make it clear that we are still struggling as an independent nation. However, for the fact that we are still alive and hopeful that we will get there and we are still on that path, we have to celebrate our independence.
Who is to blame for the current situation of Nigeria?
We are to be blamed, not God. When Nigeria came into being, other nations were also created and by now majority of them are already developed. We are really enjoying the grace of God in this part of the world. When I was studying abroad, some nations were called emerging nations, emerging markets; countries like India, Malaysia, Nigeria and others. But now, you would see that these other countries have left us behind. Therefore, if not for the grace of God, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Hence, I would emphasise that we are at fault; but, we must be thankful for where we are.
I must also reiterate that the setbacks in Nigeria are the faults of the politicians and public office holders. We all know that the military men and civilians have been in government since our independence. Since we, the civilians, are the ones who said we do not want military government anymore in our country, then, the onus of governance of the country largely rests on the civilian government. On this note, you would agree with me that the politicians have a larger chunk of the blame.
It is generally believed that politicians get too much money; do you agree?
Well, I would say it is partially true because they are mostly responsible for policy formulation and execution in the country, hence, they are the voice of the people. However, I would say the politicians are not the only ones involved because several civil servants and government workers are also involved. There is an adage that says when the head is rotten, other parts of the body would be affected. This means that if all the previous governments had done it right, the country wouldn’t be in this situation.
There is a school of thought that believes that the job of National Assembly members should be part-time instead of full-time. Do you share this view?
If we say we should make it a part-time job instead of full-time, I would say I agree with it and I am happy that I have been privileged to be a senator between 2003 to 2007, and returned in 2019. I have seen the system and I’d like to say it isn’t as easy as it seems.
It seems as if the money lawmakers collect is huge but, it isn’t exactly like that. You cannot compare the lawmakers of Nigeria with the lawmakers of other countries because Nigerian lawmakers are expected to provide basic amenities, such as water, power and others, for their constituencies. We are also being looked upon to cater to the welfare of many of our constituents. In fact, many of us barely have time to be with our families as a result of serving our country, therefore, we tend to spend a lot to carry out our daily activities. Therefore, if you take a cursory look at these things that the politicians do, you would see that the money lawmakers collect is not enough to even handle all these expectations. In fact, what lawmakers collect is not even up to half of a trillion, looking at it from the perspective of the budget that was just presented by the President.
Many of the lawmakers are the representatives of their states and there are responsibilities and duties conferred on us as lawmakers, in terms of attending meetings in various distant places and giving charity to the people who come seeking help to feed or educate their children; there are also community projects we undertake. Due to the challenge of economic instability and insufficiency of funds, you will see people flooding lawmakers’ houses to beg for money, which is not supposed to be if the country is truly independent and things are working.
Do you agree with those who say Nigeria cannot be effectively governed with its current size and structure?
I agree and disagree. God has been merciful to us in Nigeria despite the differences in tribe and the diversity of languages. Talking about the much-exaggerated overpopulation of the country, I must remind you that the nation isn’t as populated as some other countries, such as China, US, India and these countries are doing quite well. If we, therefore, join forces to work for the progress of Nigeria, we would get there. I am sure that if we do the right things, the right way, we would be able to achieve our purpose. Hence, it is better that we stay united and speak as one. We can achieve more this way than if we become divided.
As a senator, how can Nigeria achieve better unity?
We are taking steps everyday and that is why I say it is not what a single person can do alone. That is why I say if we stay united with one voice, we can make these dreams come true and make Nigeria a better place. I strongly believe Nigeria would be great again. Gone are the days when a dollar exchanged for N1.20k. The current situation is due to the bad state of the economy in the country.
Do you agree with the agitation for Yoruba Nation?
I agree, but if we listen to all these cries, we would end up being divided. We should just pray that God continues to grant us the strength to hold on and be patient. I don’t think the Yoruba group is capable of saying that Nigeria should be divided and should go their own way. No good son or daughter of Yoruba would say that Nigeria should be thrown into anarchy. So, I think the issue of whether it is time to go home is only a result of frustrations and sufferings.
What advice do you have for the Yoruba Nation campaigners?
I want to beg my people to be patient; Nigeria will be better. However, if it would be any better than this, all hands must be on deck. It may take time to achieve but we must be optimistic. Politicians are the ones to blame for this challenge. If we, politicians or leaders, had been doing the right thing from the top, things wouldn’t be so difficult and it would be easy to preach unity to our people.
There are fears that the worsening insecurity in the country may hamper the 2023 general elections. Do you think this fear is valid?
The election would be held by God’s grace. There have been insecurity problems in the North, East, West and South but we must keep the government governing. It is not possible for a country to be void of government. We all know that based on the constitution, the time would come for the sitting president to leave the seat for someone else, but that can only be done by conducting an election. Hence, we must conduct the election by all means whether or not there are insecurity issues in the country.
What is your view on the call for state police?
I would say based on my perspective and experience, it is important to have federal and state police. This would go a long way in helping us to combat insecurity. There are some situations that only the federal police have the capacity to handle; there are others that require state security agents who understand the local terrain.
For instance, if something happens in Abeokuta and a policeman from somewhere else is brought to the state capital, he would need to have the knowledge of the state and how to navigate the state easily. Therefore, we must have state security officers in each state. We would have something called the neighbourhood watch.State and community security agents would go a long way to secure the hinterlands which the federal security agents may not be able to do well.
What do you make of the growing Japa trend or phenomenon, with the mass emigration of talented young Nigerians abroad?
I have heard about it and the reports are scary. All our youths and young talents are travelling out of Nigeria, seeking greener pastures, and the prospective countries are deliberately giving them visas to leave the country, without putting the origin country into consideration.
What scares me most in all this is the proliferation of emigration. Foreigners will not fix our nation for us if all our citizens should leave the country. I am seeing the countries granting visas to our youths as wicked because they are not considering the origin nation, from which their prospective labour force are coming from. If you ask our people leaving the nation for greener pastures, they will tell you that they are not planning to return to Nigeria. If you look closely at the situation, you would see that all our lawyers, accountants and most especially medical practitioners make up the largest chunk of the people leaving the country. We cannot blame them however; insecurity is one of the major problems pushing our people out of the country. You will agree with me that our people are not lazy and are always willing and ready to work diligently. Most of the migrants are forced to leave the country as a result of bad governance, unstable economy, insecurity and other challenges. I am sure Nigeria will be great again, but the reports of migration recently have been disheartening for me.
What is the relationship between you and the presidential candidate of your party, Bola Tinubu? Are you fully in support of his presidential aspiration?
I am certain that very soon, by the grace of God, we would get to a point in this country in which anyone would be able to aspire to be Nigeria’s President at any time without fear or differentiation in ethnicity, tribe or religion. A time will come when anyone, irrespective of tribe or ethnic background, can freely aspire to become the president of this nation.
President (Muhammadu) Buhari would soon be handing over the presidency to someone else and it could go to anyone from any of the tribes and geopolitical zones in Nigeria. I also aspired to be the President but I stepped down in order to let peace reign in the country. We had to come to an agreement to ensure that we have one voice in putting forward a candidate. And having done that, we have to put in our support for the candidate.
Doesn’t your party feel threatened by the growing popularity of Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi?
In politics, there are levels and experiences. There are individuals with 20-30 years of experience. Next year will be my 23rd year in politics because I joined politics in the year 2000. From my experience, it is good, they (LP) chose to use the method they are using. Each party possesses its own devised means to garner support. I think their method is to step out and be in the spotlight. We do not need such steps because we are already well-known and we are the party in power. However, we will not relax just because we are already in power.
How are you showing support for your party?
I can tell you based on my perspective that as for the presidential candidate, in spite of the rumours of factions and divisions of interest in the party, I am telling you that we are all set towards achieving the same goal, even though I don’t know what is in the mind of other stakeholders and members of the party. I am declaring that the APC presidential candidate has my support and my supporters are convinced of his capacity to take on the task.
What about the governorship candidate of APC in Ogun State; where do you stand?
That is a totally different case and there is no secrecy in it. As for me, I do not stand with the APC flag-bearer in Ogun State.
Would your position on the governorship candidate of the APC not mar the chances of the party for presidency in Ogun State?
You see, I told you that there’s no week that I wouldn’t want to be in the comfort of my home. My craving to come home is borne out of the fact that there’s someone at home I long to meet . These are people who stood for the party day and night, but if I see that these people are not well taken care of or that they are sidelined in the party, it leaves me with no choice. There’s no way anyone would talk about APC in Ogun State and wouldn’t mention the few of us that worked towards the growth of the party in Ogun State. Thank God we were just human and we did our part. Similarly, we are not God to determine the fate of others but we have done and fulfilled our part as leaders and we have nothing to hide about our position on our governorship candidate in the state.
I know some people have expressed dissatisfaction and said I shouldn’t have disclosed my choice of candidate in public but I don’t have anything to hide. As for the presidential candidate of the APC, I have made my position known and I am reiterating it that I am giving my support to the party on that. As for the governorship candidate, I am not in support of him and I am not hiding it.
Who is your preferred governorship candidate in Ogun State?
Biyi Otegbeye is my preferred candidate and he has my support. He is the ADC governorship candidate.
This content was originally published here.