Former Minister of Works under ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and a top Nigerian politician, Senator Adeseye , has said that contesting elections in Nigeria is very expensive and that the Nigerian system must be overhauled for development purposes. In this interview with OLADIPUPO AWOJOBI, Ogunlewe, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) stated that many Nigerian politicians do not have the fear of God. Excerpts
What were the factors that played out in the just concluded bye-election in Lagos East Senatorial District that led to APC winning both the senate and house of assembly seats?
Most of the people that are giving opinions on politics don’t understand how to win an election. Once you want to win an election, you need the party, manifestoes, candidate, money, the x-factor, which is membership of your party. In Lagos State, membership of the APC is too heavy to be defeated because they have been in power for 20 years, they control the structure of who will be in government in the state. All the local governments belong to them, Community Development Associations (CDAs), Community Development Committees (CDCs) belong to them. Primary school teachers, secondary school teachers, students, civil servants, market women, market men are with them. All the people that are expected to vote are with them. Only few people are the educated elites, they are more discerning, they watch television, they go to the social media, they understand what EndSARS means, those are the ones that we need to convince now. Those are the ones that are afraid.
So, what you are saying is that your party is still the most popular in the state
There is no opposition; I have said it several times, how the PDP was able to get 11,000 votes in the election is a mystery to me because they had zero in so many polling booths, they had no agents, they don’t have the membership anymore. Even all their members are not up to 11,000 in the entire senatorial district so how can they win. They have no structure that can mobilize for them to win elections. In the APC in Lagos State, we have Justice Forum structure, we have the Mandate structure, Network and Global Mandate structures. If you don’t belong to any of these you are just migrating.
Away from that, would you say the APC has actually met the yearnings of the masses, especially at the federal level?
There is a lot to do unless we want to deceive ourselves, but it is only in the south that they are complaining. The northerners are also complaining, but I don’t think it can affect their electoral value because their level of knowledge is not as high as it is in the south.
Your party came in 2015 with Change mantra and they later changed to Next Level in 2019; would you say your party has been able to achieve both economically and in the area of infrastructure?
In fairness, there is a lot to do, they are trying, but it would be more effective if they devolve power to the local governments and the states. We need restructuring, but when you mention restructuring some people are always afraid. What I am saying is that let the local governments have more authority because they are closer to the people. If you are talking about infant mortality, poverty, education, and literacy, all these things are domesticated in the local governments. There is no indices that is negative that is not domesticated in the local governments because, majority of the people live in the local governments. The people that are agitating for EndSARS live in the local governments, they don’t live in Abuja. For this country to survive we must give more authority and money to the local governments. The way we are running things now can endanger the future of Nigeria because the people we saw on ground that are grumbling are the poor, the masses that are poor, they don’t understand if it is the fault of the government, they don’t understand restructuring, they are just poor and they are many. If you see how they struggle to sell ‘akara,’ ‘boli,’ to sell something that is not even up to N2,000, to sell little things to feed their families, you will be surprised. Some of the business are not even up to N1,000, which is what they live on. If you just sit down in your car or in your house and you don’t go out to the market, you will not understand what I am saying. But if you are observant, you see children selling ordinary pure water, imagine how much they can make from selling pure water. They sell small things, which is all what they have and that is what their families survive on. Then, you would pity this country that we are sitting on a keg of gun powder. You just pray it would not break because they are far far more than us, I mean the masses.
The issue of insecurity is disturbing; you could recall how Boko Haram killed farmers in the north recently. To travel even in the South West now is dangerous, how do we tackle this?
It is the Federal Government that must address that issue. My own view is that it boils down to poverty. Insecurity, kidnapping and all that boil to the distance of the government from the masses. The government is too far away, they are far from reality. The government must know what is happening. If we devolve more authority including police to the local governments, and strengthen them it would be better. The local government would have their own police, not just community police, because that will also be controlled by the Federal Government. What of Amotekun of the South West, how far, they ought to have started work… The Federal Government does not want Amotekun to work. The Federal Gove r n m e n t should allow the l o c a l g o v – ernment to have their own police because it would be their people. The state does not have the people, it is the local governments that have the people. The only government the masses own is the local government. If the local government is stronger and more efficient, all these things would be over. But we are afraid because we are president, we are governors. But the Governor would not be able to save himself in that state if problem comes. I’m just giving us another five years there might not be a country called Nigeria. If you look at the poverty level, you will be amazed. Just pass through the streets, even when I’m in my car, my mind would be shaking with what I see. These people are so many and they are poor. They cannot eat. We must reassess ourselves. It is only those who are myopic that would not understand the danger in this. If all those things can happen in the south, how is it going to be in the north with a more population of poor and uneducated people.
Youths protested for EndSARS in October this year and we saw the massive destruction due to its aftermath. What is your take on this?
We must govern efficiently, we must govern on behalf of the people. Our own democracy is not democracy for the people, it is democracy for the elites. People struggle to contest election every time. So, it is not people who are capable, people who are intelligent, people who are qualified that always contest election because election is money. If you don’t have money, just don’t go there. So, it is cycle, once you get there you steal more money so that you can contest the next election. If you go there and you don’t steal you would not contest the next election. So if you go there to fight corruption, we must change our system of election. If we don’t fight the system of election that we have now there is no hope for the country. I have been there, what I am saying is that if you don’t h a v e enough money you cannot win an election in Nigeria and you cannot borrow money to win an election. You cannot sell your properties to win an election, it’s too small, there is no amount of property that you have that you can sell that would make you win an election. So, how can you win election that you will not steal money. Anybody that is saying something contrary is not realistic.
Don’t you think that one of our problems in Nigeria is the presidential system of government that we are running?
That is what I’m saying, you have to change that system.
Should we go back to regional government?
Well that is the ultimate, but let us scale down the way we hold elections. We saw it during zero party system, it is less expensive and less acrimonious. It is at the constituency level that you vote, the other one is the collegiate. That was around 1994/95. We held elections without political parties and they modeled it that it was so cheap and very efficient. We should think about the future of the country and change the electoral system and make it Electoral College like they do in the United States of America. How much do you think a senator must have to win an election in Nigeria? How much do you think a governor or president should have to win an election in Nigeria? So, it doesn’t make sense and because you spent so much money on the system to survive the people that you are governing would be poor. People would also be expecting money from you and if you don’t give them money they would quarrel with you. So, you have to steal to give them, it is a cycle.
2023 is not too far and President Muhammadu Buhari is on his second term in office, do you think presidency should come to the South West now?
It should come to the south, but irrespective of where the power goes if we continue with this system the country would be ruined. There is no doubt at all in my mind. Anybody that is saying something else is deceiving himself. Bring an angel to be the president of this country the country might still collapse. We are so poor now that we cannot survive as a nation anymore.
So, what is the way forward?
It is to scale down the type of election we hold. The government is too expensive to maintain.
There are rumours that the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed , want to contest as the Nigerian President in 2023, would you support his ambition?
Let an angel come and contest and win, I still have my fears. How much do you think someone needs to contest as the president of Nigeria? He would need money to print posters, t-shirts, caps, busses and all that, he cannot spend less than N500Billion. For an ordinary senatorial election if you know the amount of money that we spent for just five local governments you would pity this country and people did not come out to vote. So, something is wrong with our system, it is not the people there, but the system.
Could you compare the PDP years wirth APC years at the federal level?
It is the same system, there is no difference. You cannot say this party is better than the other party, they are running the same system, which is corruption.
…But it is your party that is at the federal level It is not a party matter.
It is the structure of the government that would compel you to steal.
There was a constitutional conference in 2014 organised by former president Goodluck Jonathan, would you say we should go back to the reports?
I have studied everything, the structure is defective, it cannot carry us anywhere.
What is the way out?
Local government administration, give more power to the local government, and give more money to the local government. Let the best brains run our local governments, the best brains we have, professors, Phd holders, knowledgeable people should run our local governments. We have made it all-comers affairs now. Professor Wole Soyinka wanted to start such a thing, he wanted to contest for councillorship, which is the way to go. Our best brains must compete as councilors, they must compete as chairmen of local governments. When I was younger, the best brains were working at the City Hall such as Dr. Williams, he was running the health centres, FCA Coker was the chief accountant of City Council. The best Engineer, Olowu, who did long jump for Nigeria was there. We must strengthen grassroots politics that is cheaper to run, more efficient to run and bring our best brains there. That is the way out. If we concentrate on governors and president, this country would be ruined, it will be totally ruined because the governor is a dictator, the president is a dictator. They have too much power, the Governor collects N500million security votes every month that is unbudgeted for. Tell me how much is the revenue of that state for the Governor to spend N500million on security, not on food , not on education or health services. He has unfettered access to N500million every month. He doesn’t spend such money on infrastructure, he doesn’t spend it on health, education or feed the people. Nobody cares about it, who started it, who initiated it, we don’t know. It started just like that. May be the governors just conspired to determine that.
What is your message to our National Assembly in all of these?
They are handicapped, I have discussed with them because they are always in competition with their governors. If they don’t discuss with their governors and get enough money into the system they will not come back because the governor needs money for them too to contest his second term election.
What is your take on jumbo pay for the lawmakers?
They must get money to survive now. I’m telling you what is going on and you are talking about jumbo pay. They must get that to survive, we are running a corrupt system. You are talking about a section, so what is the Governor doing to have access to N500million every month that is not even his salary or allowance? Yet, he does not owe anybody any explanation..
You have been in politics for many years , so would you agree that politics is a dirty game in Nigeria?
It is very very dirty. It’s a game that anybody who believes in God must not go into. If you believe in Satan, then go into politics.
…But, you are there
Yes, we believe in Satan.
So, what stands you out from them?
Nothing stands me out, I’m part of them, don’t exclude any politician as innocent because you cannot survive like that. You are contesting an election and you want me to assist you to win, will you not give me money. So, how can I be innocent? Will I say I didn’t collect money for this election that we just had.I collected money ,there is no other way. Unless you don’t want to participate, just sit down in your house, yet people would still come and ask you for money. People pretend, but I don’t, even if you do they would just laugh at you that what are you talking about? It is not possible. You have to rent busses to pick voters who live some kilometers away from the polling booths. What are they gaining that would motivate them to go and vote, you must provide them with transport. They can never vote for free.
What would be your suggestion to President Muhamamdu Buhari?
He should listen to people. He is not listening, that is his problem. He doesn’t have ability to communicate or listen to too many people. The few people that are talking to him are not telling him the truth. They are afraid of losing their jobs if they talk to him. The cabinet of the Federal Government comprises extremely knowledgeable people, but how they are now using their knowledge to benefit that government is another thing. There is a problem in the structure because I have not seen the level of their competence in the administration. There is something that is wrong with them and they cannot talk. He should come out, come to a state and have a town hall meeting with the people. He can go to radio or television, release his WhatSapp number, Instagram account, and let people ask questions. They could insult or abuse him, then he will explain. If you don’t communicate with the people they would bottle up their anger against you. But I don’t know his state of health to be able to cope with that kind of issue, he is too absent from the people. (Saturday Telegraph)
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