Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe can be termed an elder statesman or an accomplished politician. The former minister of works has been in and out of government on some occasions and he is currently in the campaign team of President Goodluck Jonathan. Ogunlewe has been playing a leading role in the Lagos State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which he said would spring a surprise in the south western region in 2015.
In this interview, Elder Ogunlewe speaks extensively on the problems with Nigeria, how we can get out of our travails and the best way to run the nation’s economy.
What do you think is the solution to our multiple problems in Nigeria?
Let us identify our areas of problems and difficulties, number one is youth unemployment, it is so dangerous to any country, over 80% of Nigerian youths are unemployed and unemployable, then we can now look into every other problems. If you have disgruntled youth, no matter the plan you have, they will try to disrupt it. This now led to poverty level, our poverty level is increasing, but we are not addressing it, how do we reduce poverty, how do we eradicate poverty, number three is education, the standard of education is too high for the elites, but for the poor people, there is no education at all to the extent that 10 Million Nigerian children are out of school. Believe it or not, in a capitalist education that we run, this 10 million belongs to the poor, no children of the political class will be among them; either you are a councilor, a member of the state house of assembly, National Assembly, civil servant, once you have employment, it is not likely that your child would be among these 10 million children, you can see how compounded the problem is, the parents are poor, the children of the poor are out of school, there is no future for them other than to disrupt whatever the capitalists are building, capture them, kidnap them and get their own share of the economy to the extent that in some states like Lagos, 80% of the children attend private primary schools, private secondary schools and these schools are only attractive to the capitalists, so government school is no longer a fashion for the elites, it is private school. We have now left public schools to the children of the poor, so what do we get from that kind of configuration. It is a problem. All over the world, the basic thing that a child requires is education, all other things would flow, that is why our indices in the world are always going down, our economy is growing at 6%, our GDP is growing, we have foreign reserves, Sovereign Wealth Funds, all those ones are capitalist gauge of the economy, the real gauge is the poverty level, level of education and access to education that is available. Food are so expensive for the poor to have access to, government is not supporting food security. All over the world, basic food must be available to the citizens at the expense of government, government must create a body like the commodity board that would buy up all these produce from the farmers and sell to the poor at subsidized rate, that is what is done all over the world. You cannot say a tuber of yam that is N500 would be available to a family of six a day, what is their income and the minimum wage is N18,000, how can they cope. It is the government that must come in and make sure that the people that are Nigerians that voted for them are taken care of no matter what the economy is saying. Nigerians cannot eat three square meals a day, they are angry, government must make provisions to feed them at the expense of government, and they should be able to send their children to school at the expense of government. Democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people, our own is government of the people, by the people and for the elites, we run a capitalist economy, this is destructive and it is going to destroy our economy easily, but we should go welfarist or else we are shooting ourselves on the foot because 10 Million children out of school will become 20 million, 30 million, 40 million people unemployed would become 60 million, they would fight the system and that is what causes revolution all over the world, so we must think of the people first rather than running economy on the pages of the newspapers attractive only to the World Bank, but not to the people.
The present government comes on air and issues statements that they have done their best, so is the problem with the present government or what has been happening over time, can’t we start doing it well now?
It is a question of the people we have donated our sovereignty to, Section 14 of the Nigerian Constitution specifies that sovereignty belongs to the people, but we have donated the sovereignty to the elected public officers, but their voices have been hijacked by capitalists to favour them. Any attempt to change any portion of the constitution to favour the capitalists would not work for the people, it is not that they don’t know what to do, that is why they are saying let us have a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) because it seems they are handicapped by the pressure of the capitalists. Who does not know that education must be funded by the Federal Government? Under the principles of education policy, they said education as deemed fit instead of making it compulsory because if the government fails to provide education for a child, he can take the government to court. It is the responsibility of the government to make sure that a Nigerian child goes to school up to secondary school level, but if you read the constitution, it is not there. If things like these are not in the constitution, how do you now say they are working for the people, which is why everybody is talking about SNC. It is not a government, it is all the tiers of government in Nigeria that has failed us, there is no opposition in this matter because they cannot do anything if the constitution does not compel a government to act in a way. Everywhere in the world, the parents would get money from the government; the child would get money from the government until you are 18 years old. We take what is good for us from all over the world, but we have abandoned the most important ones. It is not part of our own constitution that a Nigerian child must be educated by the state at the expense of government; the constitution just hanged it there. Everywhere in the world, that is the first function of the government, how can a Nigerian not eat in a day and we are comfortable and you don’t care, it must be there that no Nigerian should be without food, he can take the government to court. Then they would give him subvention or even N10,000 in a month if you are not employed. So, how can you now say once I am not employed, government does not care and they want me to be a good citizen, it is not done anywhere in the world. Once you are unemployed, you must be entitled to a stipend, so it is not a question of one opposition, the opposition cannot do anything if the constitution is not structured to favour the masses.
We have had a review of the constitution by the National Assembly, but some people have said that we need a new constitution entirely; do you think we should have a new constitution or SNC?
It depends on the road they take, any road you take would determine that, the least that is not there in the constitution is that there is no national referendum, the issues are determined by the people we have donated our sovereignty to, but that is the extent of the sovereignty we have donated to them. They don’t want to change anything in the constitution that will affect; them there must be a national referendum. If there is a national referendum on any of these issues, you will be surprised that this constitution will work. Let the people participate in the process and let it be final, which is what they call sovereignty. They say sovereignty is donated to our representatives, but where our own interest is important, a national referendum on an issue should be final and we should put it into the constitution, that is what we are saying. We are not saying dissolve the National Assembly, or convene a national conference that would solve all these problems once. But, you can pick an item like education and say all Nigerian children should be educated by the government, let us vote. Let it be a national referendum and we vote for it, then it should be part of the constitution, nobody should change it, but now it is the capitalists, the Governors Forum that would want to dictate what would happen at all levels, they would come together, only 36 of them, would determine what would be in the constitution, the Governors have taken over everything. They are talking of the autonomy of local governments, minimum wage, let us have a national referendum so that the donors of the sovereignty would now be part of decision making and we will now pass that one into law. So, it is not a question of PDP, APC, it is the problem of not submitting to national referendum.
During your own time, especially during the time of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, there were free education, scholarship awards and all that, so is there anything that makes people to change over time to the new generation?
It is capitalism, the Governors are capitalists, they determine what goes on everywhere, they confiscate the money of the local governments, the presidency is also part of the dictatorship, so the people are not involved in governance, there is a total disconnect between the elected representatives and the people they voted for, they don’t even go back to ask them what they want, they tried it during the constitutional review process, but when they got to Abuja, they changed everything. That decision at their constituencies’ level should be the main thing, not to go back and change it along the line. Which one do you support, is it the sovereignty you get from the people or the dictate of the capitalists that would not allow you to work. Corruption would be reduced if you carry the masses along, if you give unemployed youth money, if you give a child born today and the parents money to survive, if we make sure that it is the right of a Nigerian child to have primary and secondary education at the expense of the state, there would be no or little money to steal. The capitalists have made things worse now, they have domestic debts in trillions of naira; both at the state level and at the national level, but they would invite Chinese and Lebanese as contractors to take over the works of Nigerians and Nigerians are looking at these Chinese, they are driving tractors and doing constructions in a country, where we are poor. One day, they would attack them and it would be a national problem. They have also surrendered the running of the economy to the economists and the economists parameters are GDP, SWF, and the amount of money you can keep in foreign accounts whereas every country has other means of developing the nation. We have Nigerian Academic of Science, the President constituted a team as Economic Team, we need another three teams so that we can have a comprehensive development plan for Nigeria such as Nigerian Academy of Science Team, Nigerian Academy of Engineers Team, Nigerian Political Class Team. Economic Team would destroy the country because they are never talking about wealth creation, everywhere in the world, industries are funded by the government and you hand over after completion to the private sector. If you believe that foreign investors would come and develop our economy, you are wasting time, Alhaji Aliko Dangote is not a foreign investor, he is a Nigerian, why can’t we have 20 Dangotes, why can’t you encourage your own people, give them more money to develop industries as the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello of blessed memory too did. Why are we believing only in foreign investors, the foreign investors are not the answers to our problems, it is our people, our scientists, our engineers that would develop our nation. Draw a master plan, the government would fund these industries and give the management to the private sector. I was with him one day and the president did not notice, when he went to commission Abagana Cement Factory and Alhaji Dangote said ‘I don’t have a foreign partner’ and he said he didn’t need a foreign partner to run his business, he was sending a message to President Goodluck Jonathan that all these foreign investors you are talking about would never come, it is a mirage, how was it possible for Dangote, he didn’t go to Harvard University in the United States, University of Ibadan or University of Lagos, which economics did he learn to be able to develop his own industrial based infrastructure to that level and Nigeria as a nation cannot replicate it and have another 100, we are waiting for foreign investors, is Dangote a foreign investor? It is all to blackmail the government by the foreign investors that would never come, we have 20 million foreign investors coming, it is correct, where are they, what have they done? Recently, the Chinese Head of Parliament came here and he was talking about cultural interaction, 40 Chinese technology companies went to Kenya the same period to participate in the development programme in Kenya. So, all these Chinese that are coming are contractors, which is not what we need. They should come and domesticate whatever they do and our people would take over from there, they are business people, they are extortionists, they are capitalists, they are not coming here as our friends, whereas you have your own people that can build all these things better than them. Who is building all these things for Dangote, he is now talking of a refinery, you will not hear that a company built the refinery for him, he would not award a contract to anybody to build, these things are sold as if you are buying a car. Go there, buy it and they would install and maintain for you and go away. But to say, you are awarding contracts to them, you are wasting your time. My appeal is for the governments; both at state and national levels, not to have economic team, call in the Nigerian Academy of Engineering, call in the Nigerian Academy of Science, let them be part of your team, then have a political team because economy is not only about trade and investment, it is wealth creation, industrialization. You see so many states, for 14 years, they have not sponsored the building of a factory, they only employ people into civil service and create mini-parastatals that are not creating wealth. But in the past, each state government was creating factories and supporting establishment of factories and industries and you give such to the private sector to run for you. So, there is nothing like foreign investors, they would never come.
Presently, ASUU is on strike and even our schools are not properly organized and we say education answers all, how do we reconcile this?
If I have my way, I am a pro-chancellor of a university, it is not the business of any government to run universities, they should be grant-aided, let them do research for you, you pay them, they invent for you, you pay them, let them be part of your government. Instead of giving consultancy to expatriates, outsiders, the universities should be the consultants on every aspect of Nigerian development to the government of the federation and the state governments, such money is enough to develop the universities, they don’t need your grant or salaries, they are academics, they should be supported to invent with research funds. Give them tasks and pay them and let us see if Nigerian universities will not be comparable to others in the world. We are just saying we are paying allowances, salaries, you are making them to be civil servants; they are not supposed to be such at all. How can you employ someone to dream, tell them, once you do this, we will pay you this. The role of a government is in the primary and secondary school education. They should have Federal Unity Schools Management Authority, they should remove it from the Ministry of Education and let the Nigerian secondary schools be the best in the world like we used to have, when, we were younger. They were the feeders for Cambridge, Harvard, and Oxford Universities, they came back and became professors, they went to all these colleges, where is our Queens College, Kings College, Igbobi College, Arewa College, Government College, Keffi, Government College Kano, these were standard colleges, you cannot abandon all your colleges to the private sector and believe you are running an educational system, no. Government at that time, Awolowo, Azikiwe, before they had the universities, which came later, they had invested a lot of money in primary and secondary schools and they were the best in the world, and that is where the crew of your intellectuals would be moulded from secondary schools. By the time they move to universities, they would be inventing for you and patent, one university in the United States can have 80 patents in a year, when you patent it, you develop it and you now sell it to industries for manufacturing. Our own university professors would be funded from research, give them money for research, plenty of money, they don’t need you salary if you patent their research works and they would get a lot of money from that. They would agitate because we are not treating them properly, no matter the salary you pay them, it cannot be equal to the salary of a professor anywhere in the world, what they are even asking for is token compared to what they can earn from their research works that can be patented. So, they are just there and they very brilliant and resourceful, they can develop the technology more than you can imagine, but there is no equipment, no water in their environment, they don’t have good houses to live, their children attend private schools. So, there is no consideration for the intellectuals in your community and you want to develop that economy.
Recently, in the PDP, we have new PDP, the Kawu Baraje faction, Bamanga Tukur faction, how would you describe the crisis in the party as a stakeholder?
It is a power game and their demand is clear, they want power to return to the north and they ssaid that President Goodluck Jonathan should not run, but he said he would run, defeat me at the primaries, they are saying no ‘just say you are not running.’ To me, that is not logical, what you can do is to defeat him at the primaries, bring out your own candidate that can defeat him. But in a situation, where you are saying you are creating a new PDP, is it a political party, is it a caucus within the party and you have a parallel executive, to my mind, that is an insult on the sensibility of Nigerians and it should not be encouraged. If you want to form another political party, you are free to do so, it is an illegal association, are you recognized by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). Under our constitution, to call yourself a political party, you must apply for registration and if they apply for New PDP, they will not be registrable. To my mind, they are just buying time to whittle down the resistance of President Jonathan so that he can dance to their tune, but that will not work, the man said he would contest, so look for another way of defeating him. Even if you have 200 New PDP, they would not stop him from contesting and the more you waste time, the more you lose out. They have gone so far to the extent that they cannot say they want reconciliation because they are not sure of what they are coming to see. Unfortunately for all of them, they are going out, they have served their terms, they are now saying what do we do after the expiration of our tenure, we want to be president and Jonathan is saying ‘no, I am going to be president again,’ so, what will all these Governors do, so they are in a dilemma.
People are saying the President should not re-contest, you are part of the 44 people put together to work for him, how do you see this?
We are saying that the President must re-contest. Let us know the opposition first, we don’t know their candidate, let us know their candidate first and see how capable he is, may be he is going to be a walk over, may be they are just making noise to get oil blocks, they are capitalists, so don’t rely on them, I don’t lose any sleep over them. My team has started campaign, strategizing, they would be surprised what we are going to do and we are very capable, they have no chance at all.
The APC or ACN has practically taken over the South-West, do you see the PDP coming back to power there in 2015?
Nigerians would be surprised what they are going to see in 2015, what is happening in APC in the South West is tragic, it is colonialism, it is oppression, it is a disgrace to the Yoruba race, that the Chinese and the Lebanese are the ones destroying our houses, Chinese, Lebanese are the ones constructing all our roads, no single indigene of any of these states has been given any contract and that is what has created poverty in the South West now, people are really suffering, they don’t have access to anything that is government, they are the ones driving the caterpillars and the tractors, so where is the fate of the Yorubas in the South West now. One day, you woke and Chinese have destroyed more than 200 hundred houses, you cannot talk to them, they don’t understand Yoruba Language. So, it is real calamitous, and disgraceful. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo was in power, we had Banjoko and Company, Oni and Sons, we had Yoruba construction companies that were doing all these things for him. But, these capitalists have taken over the economy of the South West and gave it to the Chinese, who are their friends. Tell me any indigenous construction company that is doing construction company in Ogun State or anywhere in the South-West, that is the surprise Nigerians would see, we have taken stock and enumerated all the properties they have destroyed, Hi-Tech is owned by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and they are handling many construction works all over the place.
For over 14 years, the PDP has been in government, and you have highlighted the problems of Nigeria, you have been a participant, now we have Boko Haram insurgent and President Goodluck Jonathan is there and he wants to come back, do you think things would be okay if he comes back?
That is why I said Nigeria should involve engineers, scientists, and politicians in the running of government and the development of the resources of the nation rather than leaving it for the economists. They should encourage states to also create employment, the Federal Government alone cannot create employment, state governments should also fund the establishment of factories and they should not give all the contracts to the Chinese or Lebanese, the Federal Government is guilty and the states are guilty too. They have domestic debts in each state running to trillions of naira, you will never see any state that is paying pensioners or engaging the services of local contractors, so it is not a national issue alone, at the state and local government levels, it is a problem. Who should run primary schools, if we have 10 million Nigerians out of primary schools, which primary schools are they out of, they are state primary schools, if you say unemployment, it is not only the Federal Government that can employ, what are the states and local councils doing to employ the youths too. If you say there is insecurity, what are the federal and local governments doing and this insecurity issue has been exaggerated by the Northerners, they said they would make the nation ungovernable for President Jonathan and they even said recently that Nigeria would dis-integrate if he contests election, so they don’t know where they are going.
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