Osasu Igbinedion: We Need to Interrogate Our Leaders’ Capacity to Drive New Economy

0

Presenter of popular television talk show, ‘The Osasu Show’, Miss Osasu Igbinedion is organising a summit on the new economy. She spoke to Onyebuchi Ezigbo on what the summit is all about. Excerpts:

You are bringing politicians, leaders of political parties to the summit, what are they going to be looking at, what are they going to tell Nigerians?

Politics if we care to admit it or not plays a huge role, an essential role in every decision; whether it be private or public that this country makes. So politics is at the centre, at the core of everything that unravels in the country. So the objective of the political panel is to look at how the role of politics comes in ending poverty. So we are going to discuss political accountability to the poor electorate. We are going to assess the crucial role of sub national actors, state actors and local government actors in eradicating poverty. We are going to review the need between capital and recurrent expenditure at national and international level. We are going to discuss the possibility of universal open budgeting at sub national level for inclusive tracking and accountability. We are going to highlight the need for gender and youth main stream in politics and decision making and as you can see all politicians cut across board; we have the PDP, the APC so if electorate are voting you in every four years they want to know ‘how are you going to change my decision?’ no more stomach infrastructure. No more give me five thousand naira during the campaign and the next four years all of a sudden you haven’t done anything and you give me another N5000 during a new campaign; we want that to stop. So politics, politicians play a huge role in ending poverty in Nigeria, they play a huge role in this new economy to ensure they carry their constituents along so that is where politicians play a role.

Have you also taken time to look at both parties manifesto; so which of them do you think in the aspect of manifesto aligns with what you are doing?

I have read the APC manifesto and I have read the PDP manifesto; both claim they want to create jobs for Nigerians but both of them from my experience, PDP 16 years, APC’s 2 years have failed to do that. They blame it on the economy; they blame it on a number of factors which I believe is completely unacceptable. When you get into government, yes we understand that the issues of governance are not as clear as the masses would see it but in actuality, if you put your work and if you make creating jobs your main priority when you get into government you would do that. That is why we are having this conversation; no more making excuses about the economic recession. No more making excuses about corruption. Corruption has existed since the beginning of time. On January 15, 1966 when the first military coup took place the masses were happy that the military coup took place because they were claiming the leaders then were so corrupt. So corruption has dated far back in our history so we are tired of you saying ‘oh because of corruption, because of no money, because of the prolonged economic recession we can’t create jobs’ the electorates are asking you now, we don’t care about all of these things, find a way because it is in your manifesto both PDP and APC. If you decide not to create jobs, then change your manifesto say ‘I will create jobs if I can’ don’t write otherwise so I think that is what needs to be done.

APC has been coming up with a project they call I think social empowerment programme N-power. How has that impacted if you look at it?

I interviewed the Minister of Information a couple of months ago and from my research during my interview at that time, I did see some impact of the N-power programme, so some people across the nation have been empowered but there can be more people. I strongly believe in teaching individuals how to fish and not giving them fish. We have found that we are running the Associate Foundation, we send children to school, we empower women with start-up capitals. Looking at the fundamental issues, how can we create a job society that you and I are privileged to attain good education? You can send your children to school. The children of the poor, the children of the boko haram ravaged society, we are not going to look at our children one day and think that because the country hasn’t been fair to them. So we are looking at how do we strike a balance between all these things? And is what we do at the Associate foundation and that is why it is a big scale to ensure that we can send more children to school be it from Kaduna, Kano, all cities from all six geo political zones. So last year I pledged before this birthday of mine which is on the 25th of August that I would send 10 additional children to school and I have done that. We have built houses for women, we have built houses for IDPs. We have started small businesses for women in Agatu, in Markurdi, in Kafanchan, in Goska, in Gandoma, IDP camp in Karamajiji. We have done a lot of work and we want to expand what we are doing because there is a famous saying that goes ‘one day the poor wouldn’t have anything to eat but the rich’ so we all need to wake up, it is no longer okay to neglect the masses. It is no longer okay to neglect the less privileged in the society.

What is the nature of the symposium that you are packaging?

It is called the Osasu Show Symposium and it is a forum where stakeholders from the private and public sector come together to talk about issues bothering on national development, economy, politics, development. So this summit this year is built towards the new economy and how does it impact the less privileged citizens meaning the market man that I have interviewed in Garki market Mr. Chidi, the IDP camps which we do a lot of work with; how does it impact them directly, the small and medium scale business owners how does this new economy impact them. So the theme of the event is ‘the new economy and its impact on less privileged citizens’

You talked about new economy; what does the word ‘new economy’ mean to an average Nigerian?

The new economy simply means industrialisation, it means internet, it means globalisation. In the new economy, things are moving at a fast pace; yes Nigeria is a developing country, yes we are a developing economy, however this new economy is an economy where you go on your phone and make an immediate transfer of one million Naira to your account. A new economy where we no longer need postmen to deliver mails because we have emails. It is a new economy where you no longer have to go to the shop to buy groceries because you have the internet. A new economy where everything is digitalised; the digital world is coming and taking over. So in this new economy how are you and I going to survive? How would we retain our jobs as postmen, as vendors in the grocery stores, as sales clerks in the shopping mall? So this new economy; globalisation, digitisation is going to take over the jobs of everyday individuals. So how is the 80% of the Nigerian population who is already struggling for jobs, the skills they have are not even going to enable them to get the jobs that we have today, that this new economy through digitisation is going to offer. So how are they going to survive in this fast pace world? That is what we are going to be talking about.

The Ministry of Communication has launched what it called smart city project, I don’t know if that has anything to do with what you are advocating for?

The smart city initiative is a brilliant idea because it takes town planning to a whole new level. So you look at all the mistakes we have made so far; look at Abuja, look at Lagos, the waste management crisis that we had as a result of the flooding. So you look at what hasn’t worked previously and how can we take digitisation into smart city planning. Of course it has to do with that as well. As I said in this new economy, we are going to see how we can create jobs. For example, giving a smart city; how can we create jobs for the less privileged, how can we ensure that yes technology will take care of arranging waste into a more sustainable manner, how can we bring the human equation into that? That is what we are trying to sustain.

According to your plan you are to bring prominent personalities in business, economy and politics, who and who are you likely to bring on board and what do you expect from them at the summit?

Those in the development sector include the country Director, ‘One Campaign’, Sarah McCain. One Campaign is huge in women’s health, it is huge on education, and it is huge on grassroots issues, so she is going to bring her expertise. We are working with Bruno the internationally renowned musician, we are also partnering the United Nations, a representative from the United Nations is going to be there, he is the equivocate of the SDG campaign; Sustainable Development Goals, which Nigeria has tapped into and it is going to be achieved by 2030. We have representatives from DFID, we have development experts such as Hamza Lawal. So a lot of people from the development sector will be there and also adding their two cents.

Do you see the private sector in Nigeria taking the lead in job creation?

Absolutely not! You see the government unfortunately I am very blunt, I am not partisan and I am going to say it as it is; the government still plays a huge role. You can’t say the private sector is going to take the lead in job creation if you are not creating a conducive environment for businesses to excel and do you really think they are going to be hiring people that they can’t pay salaries? So it all starts from the government. Yes we need to cut down our dependence on government but the government also plays a key role in policies. What is the Central Bank saying? You look at the Central Bank policy implemented almost a year back where they said international business owners, local businesses owners couldn’t take their money out of the country, you couldn’t use your cards abroad; it is a stupid and senseless policy that drive away investors. So you can’t tell them to hire five hundred more people or one thousand more people, they will tell you ‘no’, that your policies are not working for them. So on the business panel, what we are looking to do is balancing profit maximisation, poverty elimination and looking at the entire Nigerian business place environment; how do we want to do that? We want to assess the current climate created by the Nigerian government for businesses of all scales. We want to look at the impact of tax on businesses and all people. We want to look at how energy can be improved to boost the ease of doing business; electricity is a big deal. You can’t tell me ‘no we don’t have power’ if I tell you how much I spend on diesel a month with that money I can hire four full time staff at my organisation. So can you imagine if we had the proper infrastructure that will help small businesses like mine to expand? So we are also looking to see how energy, security, economic empowerment and environmental protection are in the best interest of the poor Nigerians and Africa as we transit to this new global economy. Finally, the ideal balance between the poor growth versus poor policies; how poor people can access loans without credit worthiness. These are the things we want to assess with our business panel.

You sound futuristic and ambitious, so how do you come up with funds to carry on with your initiatives?

That is a very good question. So the Associate started in 2015, I moved back to Nigeria from the United States in August 2014 and as soon as I moved back, I was doing television advertisement for political campaigns and you know how lucrative that business is for advertising. So the money I got from that I decided to invest that into my show and what is the show all about; I never knew I would be on television talking to politicians, bridging the gap between them and the masses. As I was doing my charity work, I realised that the state of the nation that I had left 8 – 10 years back was more deplorable than it was when I left so things got worse instead of getting better. So I said okay, I am doing my charity work trying to put food on the table; that is why we started building houses for the IDPs, they had nowhere to stay, there was no camp, no clean water, the camp at Area 1 and this was meant to be a government run camp. It was a sorry situation, so I was taking the profit of what I was getting from the campaign and invested into that. We did a bore hole, we did houses, we did a school so if you go there, just mention the Associate they know us there because that is our constituent. We did a lot of work with them and I said these politicians I am helping get into office, I am helping get elected, where the problem, where the cause of the plight of the IDPs.

Yes I know boko haram is a direct cause but politicians are too. So I said, how can I be a bridge between both classes? So I said this is the platform I am going to use; The Associate that is how it came about. So we take what is coming from the masses to the ears of the leaders and people were looking forward for interviews. People would come on the show and pay me xyz amount of money so I interviewed senatorial candidates, gubernatorial candidates, so we were sustaining ourselves, airtime on AIT, we were paying and we still had some money to take home after paying production cost and all that. So halfway through the year 2015 leading up to 2016, Nigeria went broke. So we said how are we going to fund this now, politicians are no longer paying, they don’t want to grant interviews they haven’t started any of their projects, they have nothing to show, so we said we have to digress, we have to look for other sources of income. So we started sourcing seriously for adverts, so we got a couple of strong buy-in from UBA, small businesses like Heritage bank. We got advertisements but we realised the economic recession isn’t letting these people stock the shop. They came and said take five million let me buy spots on ten episodes on your show’ that 60 seconds, 30 seconds ads on the 10 programmes but if you want to sponsor the entire programme, you buy the entire 52 spots. You can brand the show with your logo, you can do more things but people aren’t doing that because there is no money, so we said we have to further diversify so I launched the Associate TV network; which is an online TV network that covers business, politics, entertainment and development. So with that network we had variety of news that cover everywhere across the African continent. So the slogan is ‘News from Africa by Africans’ what is our mission? Our mission is to rebrand and reshape the way Africa is perceived by the outside world. The outside world perceive Africa as Kwashiorkor, starving, poor, black continent and we need to reshape that because we have people from Africa that are doing exceptionally well in all parts of the world. So the TSTV network has been able to go into different state and make money off that. So we go into Abia state for example, ‘Mr. Governor what are you doing here in Abia state?’ ‘oh look at the road I have done, Abia state has done fantastic work more than its predecessors, look at made in Aba, where do you think this shirt is made? You would say it is made in America but it is made in Aba. The people in Aba wouldn’t even put their logo on a shirt because no one wants to buy their shirt but now the government has changed that, he has proven that made in Nigeria is good, made in Aba is even better and people are rushing there now. I went to Aba, if you see what is going on there; people are so creative and innovative. So I am doing this for state government, I am doing this for the federal government as well. Showing highlights of what they have been able to accomplish so far, how are they impacting the lives of the less privileged citizens? This is how we have been able to diversify our resources and turn out something like this imposume because at the end of the day Associate Imposume is the Associate on steroids.

This spirit people would say, wouldn’t have come by accident. Is there any way you can relate this to your background?

I think the spirit of philanthropy is actually inmate because I remember back to when I was nine years old and we use to live in Lagos. We were driving to school and I saw a little girl. I think I had seen her before but now I think it just finally registered in my memory that this is what was happening. I saw a little girl of my age who was hawking food items on the street during school hours and I thought to myself ‘this is right’. This was the first time I consciously realised that this isn’t right. Every child should have a fair shot at success and how does every child have a fair shot at success? That is providing the basic that is by providing quality education and not just any education because there are schools that teachers don’t know what they are teaching; they are asked one plus one and they tell you it is five. So you can imagine what they are passing on to the children. Every child should have a shot at quality education. I don’t think it is something I adopted halfway in life but that chord was stroke in me.

The philanthropy spirit, did it pass from your father or your grandfather?

Of course my entire family; all the way from my grandfather, to my father, my mother, my siblings we all look for ways we can give back to the society.

If you can trace it back to your parents, one will say charity begins at home and you are from Edo state are there no kids running the streets of Edo state and what have you done in Edo state?

We are sending two or three girls to school from Edo state and that is only the beginning because remember the foundation is just one year; the show is about two and a half years. Imagine what we will do in the next five years, six, seven years so the sky is truly our limit. We are already sending children to school from Edo state that is home, but as I tell everyone, first of all, I am a Nigerian before I am a Benin woman that is the way I see myself and that is the way I want all Nigerians to see themselves. So I don’t care if you are helping children that are Muslims, who are northerners, who are southerners, who are Christians as long as you are helping people and God sees your heart genuinely, you don’t have any ulterior motives the sky is the limit.