Pa Adesakin Olabode, 82, is an environmentalist, community leader, and essayist. An author with a number of books to his credit, Olabode was a member of the first Board of Directors of New Towns Development Authority, Lagos State. In this interview with Anayo Okolie, Olabode talks about Nigeria’s journey so far and regrets that the country has missed the road to success. He says the country is in dire need of respectable leaders to put it back on track. Excerpts:
As someone who witnessed independence in 1960, how would you compare your feelings on October 1, 1960 and how you feel today?
They are put apart. It’s just like when you want to compare somebody that is dead to someone that is alive but asleep. 1960, we had very bright hope that this country will be great, great big dreams. But along the line, things started to degenerate and have gone down. Today, Nigerians are celebrating, I am sorry, they are celebrating failure, it’s very unfortunate when we think of what we saw, what Nigeria was in the 1960s or pre-1960s. We gained what we call independence. For instance, when we moved to this place (his house in Gbagada, Lagos) in the 70s, power supply was regular, very regular, security was good, even schooling in Lagos here then, there was school far away in Obalende area, people will go from here, there was free school bus. But now, things are not just there.
So, when you look at what we have seen with our eyes, it is always said, good is not good when better is expected and that better can be achieved with a little bit of extra efforts, when we know that the good we are looking for can be attained or accomplished, that extra effort that we need to put into it to get it has been put there. Look my dear friend; it’s because you do not know what had happened that you are comparing 1960 the dreams we had then with what we have now. For instance, when Awolowo campaigned last, he said if he won the election and became the president he would turn this country around. He said he would mechanise agriculture, which means the whole administration would have been turned around today. Nothing is there today, nothing is working for us and we say we are celebrating, what are we celebrating?
The question is, is there anything to really celebrate? The answer is simple, sincere and true capital NO. We should learn to be sincere, take stock of our life and stop celebrating failure: bad roads, no electricity power always, living in blackness and darkness. Tell me, my young compatriot, where are the reasons for cheers, to roll out drums for celebration? Honestly, we cannot be mourning and celebrating, it’s nothing but water mark of hypocrisy. Let us make our today count by the decisions we make and manage most effectively and proficiently.
At what point do you think Nigeria began to derail in terms of political and economic development?
Unfortunately, Nigeria would have been a great country if not because of parochialism. Ojuku described late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the best president Nigeria never had. Unfortunately, the one who would have delivered this country was our colonial master who made sure that Chief Awolowo never became president because they knew that if Chief Awolowo should rule this nation, this country would become very great. But they made sure it never happened.
We had things that could develop this nation. After Awolowo had come back from the prison, where they put him because they didn’t want him to be in charge, he told us when the oil thing was going on, that Nigeria should be very careful. He said with the money we had from the oil, let’s diversify, let’s be wise. He gave some reasons; he said many countries that had no oil will have the oil, that the one we had, we do not know when it will dry up, and that the money we were making from it, let us diversify with it. Let us go to agriculture, let’s do other things. He said that there was no country called OPEC, that we cannot determine the price, that the price could be determined and tomorrow, it would be against us. So, to prevent the oil boom from becoming oil doom, we should diversify and go back to agriculture, mechanise it, do a lot of things.
They were castigating him. What are we experiencing today?
Then the military came at the best of the time, that was when the money was coming in but, unfortunately, it was badly managed and the real civil servants then became easy tools in the hands of politicians. It started gradually from that level and the fear has never gone down. The army contributed very seriously and that is why the best of military administration is worse than the worst of a civilian administration. They don’t know anything about politics, that is why they created states, just to please a segment of this nation. That is why things are going wrong because they are ruling this country on sentiment.
With the level of insecurity today, don’t you think Nigeria needs state police?
The issue of state police could be good if it’s going to be well utilised but that is not the answer. We have created a lot of problems for ourselves and after the problem we are trying to proffer solution. Why are there agitations here and there? Our leaders are not facing the reality of the situation. We don’t have true Nigerians, and some people are glad to say Nigeria is not negotiable.
Which Nigeria is not negotiable? Before 1900, there was nothing like Nigeria and people are coming back to say it’s not negotiable, what is not negotiable? When somebody said if this election is not won by me, this country will not be governable and unfortunately, he didn’t win the election and virtually rendered the country ungovernable. Are you surprised today? If it is a coincidence, it’s a bad one. The militants came and said they are Avengers, what are they avenging? Because someone from the North won the election, they now say they are avenging because they said when someone from the South was ruling the country was almost not governable. Where are we going from here? What are we celebrating? The truth is not there, we have all sinned and nobody is saying God forgive us.
What can be done to return Nigeria to the path of peace and progress?
Unfortunately, today we don’t have respectable leaders that can command respect. For instance, one would have been happy if the present APC were working together as a party, but they are not. When you look at the conglomeration, bringing together of influential people from different parties and these are people that say they are the best in the country, you put them together. They could have been able to pull their resources together, but unfortunately, they have not been able to work together. Therefore, they have missed the mark of success because coming together is just a beginning.
Have they been able to come back to say, where did we miss it? I wrote to Mr. President, about 16 pages. I told him that I was writing this paper to him to ensure that his government did not fail because if the government fails, it would be a shame and it will bring us backward. That’s what we are experiencing today.
Having worked with people, how many politicians of the like of Jakande do we have in the country today? He still lives in the midst of the people he was living with before he was governor. When he became governor, he was living in that Ilupeju residence. Till today if you go there now you will still meet Jakande in that house. How many of our politicians are doing that? If the president says he is fighting corruption, there is no future in the past. What are they doing today? If the present government is leaving today or tomorrow, will they say their hands are clean? If you must go to equity, you must go with clean hands. They are talking about what the people did when they were in government, what are they doing today as a party? Where is the hope?
How do you think the Niger Delta issue should be handled?
It can be handled better; we are not handling it now because you don’t force people. If somebody has a dream and has a hope, you can only just say you are killing that person because after killing that person, the hope, the dream, will still be living on. Unfortunately, most of the problems in the oil area today have been the result of accumulative deficiency in the running of the state all along. That area has never been developed and it’s not like some percentage are being given to them.
They are not happy because their brother was not returned. I do not care who is ruling this nation, provided that this nation is taken to a very good level. The handlers are not doing well, the money they give to them because of this; politicians are looking at their own personalities, not the development of the area. If they were developing the area all along, building roads, schools hospitals, it wouldn’t have gotten to this. Unfortunately, what have been given to them, have been destroyed. They are not helping the nation, they are not helping themselves.
What are some of the features of leadership in the good old days that are missing in governance today?
Today we don’t have people that are responsive. For instance, I will let you know that Alhaji Jakande, when he was ruling this state, he made a very good provision and he carried people along. He was a workaholic. The president was saying that his speech writer plagiarised Obama’s speech. If he had talked very well, he would not have spoken out.
Who is the speech writer? He’s unknown and you that is known, after you have done this thing, you said you did not know. It shows the type of nation we are in now and the type of leadership. A leader’s sin is a leading sin, a leader’s deficiency is a leading deficiency and that is why today, our reading culture is down. Our leaders are not reading. So if our children are not reading, would they have any moral courage to talk to them?