Nigeria Not Properly Governed – Wole Olanipekun

Chief Wole Olanipekun was ex-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) . In an interview with a select group of journalists, including Ademola Babalola, Olanipekun bares his mind on the state of the nation
What is your view about the state of affairs in the country as Nigeria clocks 56 years?
The state of things is appalling and excruciating. Nigeria is blessed, but many people are not managing this country’s wealth properly. Provided I don’t have money, can I stop my brain from working in order to repair my kidney? It is not a laughing matter because the brain controls all the other parts of the body; every system. Then if you sell your brain to repair your kidney, both the two are gone. Or, kneecap someone who needs a medical attention on his left kneecap, when the doctor says this left knee cap needs replacement and the man says I don’t have money; can you remove the right knee cap and put it on the left? And the doctor says, I will remove it. What happens? At the end of it, he ends up losing both. That is the case with Nigeria where some people are clamouring for the sale of the nation’s assets.
If some people have so much money that they want to buy the entire common wealth of Nigeria, why can’t they loan us money? How did this thing start? The industrial mogul, Aliko Dangote: a very hard working young man whom I respect a great deal, is however not an Economist. He was the one who mooted the idea, saying let us sell our co-assets. Later on, the respected Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido re-echoed it. Then there was that chorus. Then there was the doxology by Saraki. Then, I kept asking myself: was it accidental? Was it incidental? Was it a script? And then on the pages of newspapers yesterday, the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was saying that you can sell. Yes. But don’t sell to cabals. That means the former President knows the cabals that hurt the national interest. The cabals that have been buying what belongs to you and I. Then who are the cabals? They owe us a duty to tell us who bought the national assets which they have been owing us years back. But to me, the ones they want to sell now are not deteriorating. Those ones are not in deterioration; they are not in recession. We are still making profit from them. $2.25b or thereabout is being generated on the NLNG in Port Harcourt. So, how do you sell that one off? And you want to sell it off for how much? $30bn. Then why don’t you also take loans from abroad: from the Paris Club, from the London Club, from all the donor agencies and then use them as collaterals? Why don’t you do that either from within or without; either from those who want to buy them now; those who are so eager; those who have so much situated themselves to buy the national assets? Why should Nigeria not take loans from them because they are so rich?
If you are so sure that if you want to sell now, they would be willing to buy, then take loans from them. This is because the combination of three, four or five of them would be richer than Nigeria. So, let them give us loans. Then, when you want to sell, such sensitive institutions like that situated in sensitive areas of the country; those that are out in vantage and vintage of such locations, you don’t sell them without putting pens on paper. Let us be realistic. I am from Ekiti. Assuming now I am from Ikere and in my town, we have many tourist attractions. Assuming you discover gold in the Olosuta Rock or any others, like granite or whatever, and you want to sell, you have to give certain percentage to people from that catchment area. Has the government thought about that? It won’t be fair. And you want to dispose of these national assets, then you are saying that people from certain areas of the country, including me from the South West, to go to the Niger Delta Area and buy up assets. If you do that, you are not buying peace. Let me put it mildly: you are buying tremor. You are buying a future earthquake. So, people should not treat us as if we don’t have common sense at all.
But they said if they would sell, there would be some modalities of doing that for future benefits. What do you think?
Yes, I read in the newspapers that if they sell, they would put purchasing clause. What is the meaning of that? To me as a lawyer, I say that is nonsensical. You sell this building for example, and the buyer has given you money. Then in 10 years, you say you want to re-purchase. Do you think then there would be no law again? How do you re-purchase? It is just like the Yoruba adage that says, ‘Oruka ti wo owo Baba Oloosa. Lati bo, a disoro’. (a ring has been slipped into herbalist’s finger;to remove it will become difficult). So, they should stop treating us as if we don’t have common sense at all.
And to you my brothers, my friends in the Press, we have to keep on asking certain questions. This country needs a lot of debate. Robust one; rugged one. One that will benefit all of us. The era of the king is divine and the kind does not do any wrong, has passed. Leaders are subjected to questioning, not to bring them down, but for questioning on what is good for all of us. You and I know what is going on in America now: Clinton and Trump. Did you not enjoy watching them on on television? Here, we are making choices for America and we are not making choices for ourselves. And we must engage our leaders and our leaders must engage us. We have to go to our roots. How have we got to this sorry path? When did we lose our morals? When did we lose our integrity? Where did we lose fear of God? When did we lose working? When did we start to separate ourselves from the injunction of God as recorded in the Book of Genesis that men, including women also, that out of the sweat of the browse, you will have your food?
Nowadays, everybody wants to be a billionaire everyday. We no longer question people about how they make their money. How did you amass your wealth? How did you become a millionaire or billionaire? Most people in Nigeria now want to live on politics, live by politics; drink the wine of politics, take the air of politics. And everywhere, everything appears collapsing.
But I want to plead that those our God has blessed should contribute to the development of this nation. Why? You may say why do I have to donate a building to the Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo as a Pro-Chancellor? I was Pro-Chancellor at the University of Ibadan and God used us to do some things there, spiritually; I don’t know whether by spiritual fixation. But I am not from Oyo and I will never forget my roots. But let me say this: Some people may be thinking that this family has so much. No! But we are satisfied in God. We are satisfied with what God has done for us. We are happy with what we have, but we are not unhappy with what we don’t have. We are so happy and appreciative to God for what we have.
I don’t do more than legal practice and that is what I will do till I will pass on. You cannot teach an old man how to use a left hand. I am not interested in any political office and I am not begging for any position, but I insist and I have a right to insist that Nigeria must be governed properly. And I am saying that today, Nigeria is not being governed properly. There is rudderlessness on the part of the government both at the Federal, state and local government levels. They are leaving things that they should do undone. The other day I heard Mr. President saying he would support the National Assembly to make the Local Governments independent of the state government. What is the business of the Federal Government in that? Local Governments are under and belong to the state government. Why is the Federal Government that is overburdened not be concerned about its plights? We are not even running a federal system. What we are running is hydra- headed unitarism. So, why is the Federal Government not saying we have a lot of items on the exclusive legislative list like tourism, fishery, agriculture etc? What has the Federal Government got to do with that? So, why is the Federal Government not encouraging the States to be more independent? Why is the Federal Government not going to the real definition of real federalism? That is, donation of residual powers by the federating units through the Federal Government, and not the other way round?
They are now talking of Local Government. What is their business with that? Why is the Federal Government not talking about security, and to that extent, I’m talking of state police, strong police, University police? Why is the Federal Government not talking about liberalising INEC and making it more independent? Why is Federal Government not talking about building institutions more than individuals? What we have in Nigeria today is powerful individuals, not powerful institutions. And the powerful individuals, if care is not taken, they are already becoming lions and when lions roar, they will lionlise, and you know what will happen. They will devour. And I hope those individuals who are richer than Nigeria, (because now they are richer than Nigeria), they don’t devour us. A time will come when Nigeria will start borrowing from them to survive. A time will come.
But why is the Federal Government not  listening to your pieces of advice going by your status in the country? In which way have you tried to reach out to the government to advise them?
Those who know me, know that at my level, I make interventions when the need arises. When you start talking everyday, at times you will see yourself as a nuisance and or like someone who is going gaga. But occasionally, we make interventions, but ideally, let’s face it: in a country that wants revival, the leadership of that country will identify those who matter. They will identify people of substance who can give their all, not beggars. I don’t want anything from anybody. I don’t even want to be a minister. I don’t pray to become a governor, I am satisfied with where I am. I have helped a lot of people in my areas and various other areas. So, it is not my duty to be going cap- in- hand to be going to any governors’ office or to any corridor of power to say that I want to advise them. A situation where you have legal issues in the country and people like us who have assisted many people to get to seat of power; a situation whereby my friend-governor who has legal problems do not contact me, I don’t think it is my duty to go and beg him to contact me. Who loses? The country loses in such a situation.
In a situation where we are talking about economic recession, who are the people who are managing our economy? What do they know about economy and Economics? It is not everything about the past governments that are bad. For example, has anyone of us gone back to the archives to scrutinize those General Babangida appointed as ministers? I believe leadership must not be intimidated by some people in the country, rather call them, use them and tap their brains, tap their resources.
I am not an Igbo man, neither am I from the Niger Delta, but when you are talking about economic revival and restructure and you are not calling someone like Pat Utomi. (At least I have not mentioned a Yoruba name so that somebody won’t say I am tribalistic). But wherever you have a nation that is held captive, you have to use those you have.
Obasanjo was talking about cabals, who are the cabals? Let him mention. He is our former president, so there should be no cabals. I have noticed some things that successive governments and Head of States have been held captive by powerful individuals and those powerful individuals don’t have the interest of Nigeria at heart. They are narrow-minded and full of  self-centredness. That is what they pursue all the time. And where are we now? Sorry-path.
With your global experience, do you know some nations that have experienced this type of recession without selling their assets?
Did Ethiopia, that was ravaged by drought, the fastest growing economy in Africa today, sell off her assets? Ethiopia Airline is one of the few airlines in the world that are making profit. Ethiopia has about two to four multinationals that they are using to revive the economy. You want to partner with China, well China has a national company that is used to catch businesses everywhere in the world.
But sadly, Nigeria remains the only country that does not have its flag flying in the air. Above it all, let us start with this principle: ‘do as I do and not do as I say’. And in that wise also, we need to plead with Mr. President. He needs to engage with Nigerians more. Me I don’t want to be hearing what the president says through the Aides every time, I want to hear the President myself. And my children and grand children want to hear what the president is telling them.
That was how people like us grew up. I listened to and heard the likes of Awolowo speak; I heard Akintola and others, not the tales from Femi Adesina my dear brother or Shehu Garba. The President must engage and feel the pulse of the people, and again, there is too much distance and too much gap between the government and the governed. They need to be told that fact.