Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, in this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, recalls his foray into politics; links Nigeria’s woes to weak political leadership recruitment process; faults bicameral legislative system and proffers solutions to emigration of young professionals from the country.
Young professionals, especially those with medical background, are emigrating to the West in large numbers. What exactly is the federal government doing to reverse the trend?
As I said earlier, the first step in the treatment of a patient is diagnosis. We must diagnose to know what we are dealing with. We have to sit down and look at the massive emigration of professionals from the federation. The root causes are not far-fetched. The proverbial green pasture or golden fleece is not always true.
It is only in the deserts that you do not see green pastures. Israel, for instance, is a desert. But they are not having desert experience. They live in abundance.
A lot of our young professionals are not satisfied with the situation back home. It is not about being gainfully employed alone. Even those who are employed are not happy in terms of their conditions of service, emoluments and quality of life.
They are also not happy with the security situation. These are issues that we must first confront as a federation. If you look at the health sector, for instance, our hospitals are not what hospitals should be in terms of personnel. Where we need 10 nurses, we probably have two nurses. Where we need five medical doctors, we probably have one. As a result, personnel become overburdened. It could be issues around inadequacy and non-existence of medical equipment.
It is not about having beautiful structures. If equipment is not available, there is little or nothing those personnel can do.
It could also be issues revolving around emoluments and remuneration.
All these issues are important for us to examine critically and address purposefully. The University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan used to be a teaching hospital of choice for the high and mighty, even from the Far East. Princes from the Far East were coming to UCH. When people are talking about medical tourism, we benefited from it at some points.
People were coming to UCH because it was one of the best teaching hospitals in the Commonwealth of Nations then because the services were there. The personnel were also there. Facilities were available.
The first thing is to diagnose the reasons for this syndrome. Thereafter, we move to address the problems. Even when we succeed in addressing the challenges, it does not mean people will not go where they want to go because it is in human nature.
Some may be borne out of adventure.
But we must first address the issues back home. We can then begin to inculcate the spirit of patriotism. But the basic things must be in place first. If we want our citizens to die for our country, governments – federal, state and local – have duties to make people have those demonstrable commitments. It is not rocket science. It is just about sitting down to address all these issues I have mentioned.
At some point, you transited from medicine to politics, what informed this decision?
There are reasons for my decision to embrace politics. First, my father, then a renowned teacher, was also a politician. My father’s students are always excited whenever they see. The first question they will ask me is: are you the son of Merry Chief? Merry Chief is my father’s nickname. They will also ask me: Are you from Ijebu Ife? I will answer them “Yes.” Then, they would start telling me stories. Some of my father’s students are Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Bola Ajibola (now late), Bashorun M.K.O Abiola, among others.
My father taught all of them at Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta. Apart from being a teacher, my father was the Founding Principal of POBUNA Teachers’ Training College, Epe. He was also a politician.
He was a leader of Action Group in Ijebu East Local Government Area, Ogun State. The meetings of the political party were always held in my father’s compound.
Also, campaign motorcycles and vehicles were always parked in my father’s compound. It was so fascinating to see party leaders and members each time they had meetings in our compound.
On many occasions, political rallies would be held in our frontage. I still remember with nostalgia when Mama H.I.D. Awolowo would stand right on the balcony of my father’s house to address political rallies. That was when Pa Obafemi Awolowo was in prison.
I was really fascinated with all these political meetings. I got interested somehow.
Second, my experience as a medical doctor tells me clearly that politics itself, which has to do with governance at the end of the day, takes its roots from medicine.
When you attend to your patient as an individual, you must diagnose the cause of his ailment before you can commence treatment. If you do not diagnose correctly, it is like beating about the bush.
So, the first step in the treatment of a patient is the right diagnosis.
Politics, therefore, is like medicine on a larger scale. It entails moving from individual to society. It also entails you first diagnose the problems of society and apply politics to solve them. In fact, one of the renowned German pathologists, Rudolf Virchow, corroborated this hypothesis in a report he submitted to the Berlin Government then.
He said: “Medicine is politics at large.” He made that statement after he was appointed to chair the community sector and look into the problem of the people. There was an epidemic. Virchow, as a pathologist, was appointed to look at the root causes.
In his report, he came down heavily on the government. Of course, he was vilified for producing what was later tagged a political report. He said scabies was “a disease of overcrowding. The problem we are having is as a result of overcrowding.” He then proved it. There is obviously a nexus between medicine and politics. His statement in response to being accused of producing a political report was based on that.
Third, medicine is humanitarian. One of the greatest things that gives a medical doctor joy is to see his patient recover following his intervention. Till date, I still see people who run to me and say you delivered my baby. Some will say doctor, that is your baby and she is married now. That happened decades ago. This is one of the things that really gives me joy and a good standing anywhere.
As a medical student, you were involved in the students’ union politics. How did you cope with the task of studying medicine and the burden of students’ union activism?
I gave you background earlier. When I was still very young, especially in my days in primary and secondary schools, I developed interests in politics. I indeed grew up observing my father holding political meetings and rallies in our compound.
When I got to the university, what I had imbibed in terms of politics and politicking simply followed me. I got involved in the students’ union politics, which was almost an abomination for medical students. It appeared to our lecturers then that I was not serious. That was the perception they had about me. But I was involved in the students’ union politics to the point of standing for an election. I contested the position of Financial Secretary, and I won. I was also a member of the Students Representatives Council at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
Some of my contemporaries, whom I am still very proud of, include Prof. Ayo Olukotun (now of blessed memory). I think he was the President of the Students’ Union Government in 1975. Since that time, we were friends until he passed away recently. Ondo State Governor, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredole, was a good friend. We were in Ife together in those days. He was the Vice President of the Students’ Union Government.
Former Deputy Governor of Ogun State, Mr. Segun Adesegun, was also the Vice President of the Students’ Union Government at different times.
Dr. Olusegun Mimiko was a vibrant member of the Students’ Representatives Council.
Of course, Mimiko later became the Governor of Ondo State. We were all together and involved in the students’ union politics.
As a member of Action Group, your father was a progressive. Why did you join the National Republican Convention (NRC), which was a little to the right?
When I left the university, I had my house job at the State Hospital, Abeokuta. That was 1981 and 1982. I came to Lagos State for my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC). I served at Federal Technical College Clinic, Akoka. After I finished my national service, I served as a medical officer in one of the private hospitals in Lagos.
We had then formed Lagos Forum. It was a forum of professionals – doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants. We were holding meetings regularly. We discussed current affairs as young energetic professionals. During this period, those political parties started emerging with the plan to return Nigeria to democracy. That was under General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.
Prior to the NRC, there were so many political formations. I initially belonged to Liberal Convention. With what I called Babangida’s years of political experimentation, those political parties were dissolved. At the end, two parties – NRC and SDP – were decreed into existence. Many of us in Liberal Convention were persuaded to join the NRC. As far as I am concerned, the difference between NRC and SDP is just the difference between six and half a dozen.
All these nomenclatures – a little to the right or a little to the left – are just expressions of convenience. A good number of my friends were from Liberal Convention. A good example is Dr. Doyin Okupe. I remember the first national convention that we had in Abuja. I was a national delegate from Lagos, representing Somolu then. There were five of us that represented Somolu. It was at that national convention that Doyin Okupe became NRC National Publicity Secretary.
Of course, Chief Tom Ikimi, emerged National Chairman. All the exercises were a managed process. That was just the basis.
It was not really predicated on any serious ideological divides. No, it was just convenience. I was only there for the first national convention. Before the second national convention, I resigned strictly on principle. With due respect to the presidential candidate of NRC, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, I felt there were better people within the party, who could have been our presidential candidate. With all sense of modesty, we never really knew Tofa. We had the likes of Maitama Sule. We had the likes of Malam Adamu Ciroma. We had a lot of vibrant people who should be our presidential candidate. When Tofa emerged, I felt this was not acceptable.
I left the NRC before its second national convention and joined SDP at the Ojota Ogudu ward. That was what happened. It was not really based on any ideological persuasion.
You have been involved in politics for more than three decades now. Looking at Nigeria from one epoch to another, can you say you are proud of where we are as a federation?
I can say I thank God for what He has made possible for me to do in health as a medical doctor and in politics as a professional. Professionals in politics are supposed to be professional politicians.
I am not a professional politician. Rather, I am a professional in politics. Whichever way you look at it, things are not really the same. But with all sense of modesty, I can walk tall and raise my head because God has been good to me. I have recorded enviable achievements whether in medicine, which is my profession or politics, which is my vocation.
As a nation, we may have had relative success. But we may not be where we ought to be whether in terms of healthcare system or in terms of our politics.
In the health sector, we have so many establishments. But is that all? The hood does not make the monk. That is just about setting up institutions whether as teaching hospitals or general hospitals. No, it is not just about that alone. If you look at the three levels of the healthcare system – primary, secondary and tertiary, I have always argued that the healthcare delivery system is a pyramidal structure. At the base is the primary healthcare. In the middle is the secondary healthcare. At the apex is tertiary healthcare. A pyramid cannot stand on its apex. It can only stand on its base. That tells you that it is the base of a pyramid that is most important. No country can be said to have a good healthcare delivery system without having robust primary healthcare. Over 75% of healthcare needs lies at the primary healthcare level. Then, you move to the secondary healthcare level.
Perhaps, that will account for about 20% of our healthcare needs. The rest will be at tertiary healthcare level. In terms of the healthcare needs of the people, the bulk of it lies at the primary healthcare level.
Only less than 5% will be at the tertiary level. What have we seen over the years? We have seen deterioration.
What are the reasons for deterioration in the country’s primary healthcare?
When I was the Minister of State for Health, we could establish 30,000 primary healthcare centres through the last audit that we had across the federation. But less than 10% of the primary healthcare centres are functional. I am just painting the picture for you to appreciate. The centres are not functional either the buildings have become dilapidated or they cannot be accessed. When we talk about functionality, it entails uninterrupted power supply, but it is not stable. It also entails constant water supply, but it is not available. It equally involves medical personnel, but they are not adequate. If primary healthcare centres do not have all these facilities, they cannot render any service.
What are these services? It includes ante-natal care. One of the reasons we had infant and maternal mortality is due to poor access to ante-natal care. Immunisation, especially for vaccines preventing childhood diseases, is very key. These diseases – vaccines preventing childhood diseases – are killing children below five. But they are vaccine preventable. If you do not have constant power supply, you cannot have the cold chains required to preserve the efficacy of the vaccines. It has been established that a significant percentage, no less than 20% of the measles, can be treated with good water supply.
People are having typhoid and cholera. These are diseases we can treat with what we call water hygiene sanitation. We still have open defecation, which is an invitation to diarrhoea. We cannot have effective health education because it is one of the functions at the primary healthcare level.
We were taught at the medical school that common things occur commonly. That is why malaria remains the commonest and most devastating. It kills more than any other disease. These are the challenges we have in the system. I cannot say I am proud. Across the board, we have not done enough.
People should not start pointing accusing fingers at the federal government. No! Ordinarily, primary healthcare should be the duty of local governments to the communities.
Are you satisfied with the functionality of the country’s political system, especially its legislative arm?
As the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly between 1999 and 2003, I cannot say I am proud of the kind of things we now see in terms of the management of the State Houses of Assembly.
I cannot say I am proud of the kind of things I saw when I was in the Senate between 2003 and 2011. Some of the senators, for instance, are honest to admit that things are not the way they used to be.
We do not really see much of the kind of legislative activism that I engaged in when I was in the Senate.
If you ask me now, we need a review of our legislative system. I am beginning to question the need for us to adopt a bicameral legislature because of cost implication and delay. Of course, we have advantages and disadvantages of unicameralism and bicameralism. If I were to look at the totality of my experience vis-a-vis what is happening now, I will say we do not need a bicameral legislature.
Our politics, generally, has deteriorated. It has become cash and carry. People are hardly excited about any candidate who cannot give them money.
The whole system has now become heavily monetised that the good ones may have the opportunity to be where they could be. That is my personal assessment of the whole situation.
Since 1999, you have been an active political participant. If you look at our system era by era, what are the problems? What are we supposed to do that we have not done? Then, how do we solve these problems?
Yes, there are challenges. One of these challenges is the political leadership recruitment process. What do I mean by that? In Christendom, we often say: “Seek ye first the kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness. All other things shall be added unto thee.” It is the same thing in politics. I will say seek ye first the kingdom of politics, and all other things shall be added to you. That is where everything happens.
Some of my friends will call me and complain that they have not had light in their areas for some time or their roads are deplorable.
I will ask them some questions. Who is your council chairman? They do not know. Who is the member representing you in the House of Assembly? They do not know. Who is the member representing you in the House of Representatives? They do not know. Who is your senator? They do not know.
One of the challenges is we ourselves as people. We have keyed into a cliche that politics is a dirty game. It will remain dirty for as long as good people that ought to participate refuse to participate.
One thing I always say is the statement credited to the philosopher of old. The statement goes thus: “The greatest punishment for the wise who refuse to rule is to suffer under the rule of idiots.”
If people just shy away under the guise that politics is a dirty game, whoever is elected is the one that will do it.
We have allowed the wrong people to take charge because the good people have refused to participate in politics.
We often say that what it takes evil men to prosper is for the good people to fold their hands. There must be active participation by the people.
The 1999 Constitution also guarantees our rights to participate in politics. We must ensure that we project the brightest and best people among us. It does not stop there.
We become aloof often. Most people exhibit their energy and enthusiasm during electioneering. Those who tried to vote went to sleep after voting. It should not be that way. We are supposed to keep elected officials on their toes. These are the people who came to beg for your votes. When they get there, you let them loose. You allow them to do whatever they like. People must come out of their docility and ask questions. Legislators are given money to establish constituency offices. It is not for fun. It is supposed to be a clearing house for constituents to approach their representatives at different levels on issues of public interest.
When I was in the Senate as the Chairman of the Committee on Ethics, Codes of Conduct and Public Petitions, we made sure that we had a code of ethics for senators.
We made it compulsory for every senator to establish constituency office. I had a constituency office because we were given money for it. All these things are necessary. People must participate actively. They raise the red flags.
We must also imbibe the culture of progressive continuity. What do you see most times? We see abandoned projects because Party A started those projects and Party B abandoned them. Or it was the era of one governor as though the new governor would govern over different people. This has led to lack of continuity. This has also led to what we called policy somersault. It is part of the challenges in the system.
Ajaokuta Steel Mill, for instance, depicts the problems with Nigeria. After sinking billions, the project remains moribound.
Another challenge is inappropriate priority. We must get our priority right because there are so many things competing for limited funds available. We must properly prioritise our needs. It is not about building bridges where there are no rivers. It is not just about developing infrastructure in the cities. People also live in the rural areas. They need to be reached too. There are other things we may not be able to quantify. One of them is insincerity. We are so insincere. Coupled with that, we are not also serious