Adebayo: Poverty, Insecurity, Bad Governance, Nigeria’s Major Problems

Adebayo: Poverty, Insecurity, Bad Governance, Nigeria’s Major Problems

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate in the 2023 general election, Prince Adewole Ebenezer Adebayo, has identified poverty and insecurity, as well as bad governance, as the major problem affecting Nigeria. In this interview with THISDAY, he took a cursory look at the economic policies of the current All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government, the call for wage increase by organised labour and what he would have done differently if he was the president, among other issues.

What is your assessment of the government’s policies so far based on the ruling party’s campaign promises?

There is something called parallax, appreciation of the situation. What is happening objectively in Nigeria is that Nigeria is doing her homework. We just realised that we need to do our homework. That is the objective reality. But, the perception each person would have is now different. What I see us doing now is having a re-sit for our own homework. The fact that a student is now serious doing his homework doesn’t mean he is going to use the right formula. He could use the Bracket of Division, Multiplication and Subtraction (BODMAS) for quadratic equation, and soon enough, he will find out that it is not working. The first thing I diagnosed in the course of the election and after is whether we understand our homework. If you have homework in physics and you are bringing Wole Soyinka’s ‘Trial of Brother Jero’ or Chinua Achebe’s ‘Arrow of God,’ you will realise that however well intentioned you are, you are doing the wrong subject. So, I see that what is facing and chasing us is poverty and insecurity, as well as bad governance being the guarantor of both. In the end, the election went the way it went, and thanks to many Nigerians, who kept liking me, but didn’t come and vote for me, and the election went the other way. About the guys who are in charge, what is the people’s attitude to them? I can say, well, it is their problem. Let them fail, but this homework is a good one that cannot be left to one individual. When it comes to group assignments, it is a national development. If the least desirable person is in charge, they are going to mark all of you by the standard of what he does. What you can do is to offer internal audit, criticisms, but don’t give the lecturer the impression that you are not doing the homework or give any reason for the person who is going to submit or present the homework for you to fail. I see poverty, insecurity, and bad governance as the problems we have. Other people may have different interpretation, maybe, the personality isn’t good enough. Maybe, the ethnicity of the person in charge isn’t good enough, or religious factor isn’t good enough. So many factors, but from what I can see, we are failing to deal with poverty and insecurity. We are also failing to run competent government. I have some disagreements with the people in government now, including the party, the president and his team. I think they are answering the wrong questions. However hard they work, they can’t get it right because they are answering the wrong question. My duty is to be reminding them all the time that they are answering the wrong question, and that this is the right question.

So, however much President Tinubu is trying, however wonderful his ministers are, I wish they would spend all that energy on actual priorities of what is ailing the country and try to create wealth for the people through the people themselves. And they will try as much as possible to deal with the primary duties of government, which is to keep people safe, to keep people inspired, and to obey the law.

The first duty of government is to keep everyone safe. The next duty is to make the law work by the government itself obeying the law and showing an example that if you don’t, these are the consequences. Yes, we have stylistic differences as to which economic model works better.

What I found out is that you can give a basket of 30 successful countries. Each one is pursuing a different economic model but they are successful in their own way. It’s like a journey from Lagos to Abuja. A wise person might say the best place for you is actually to fly. Another person may say don’t fly; go by road. Another person may say why don’t you take a train? If you are serious and determined, even if you choose the slowest method, you will eventually get to Abuja because you are facing the right direction. Your mode of transportation may be weak; it may not be the most efficient, but you will get there. However, if you take the most efficient aircraft and you are in Lagos trying to come to Abuja, and you take your navigation towards the South, you will be running very fast, but you will never get to Abuja.

What is your take on the current finance embargo and what solutions can you provide on the matter? Do you think the government is on track with their response?

First and foremost, when it has to do with your government and any foreign entity, your government’s on track. So, just let us have the attitude first, because if Binance is being sanctioned by South Africa, Russia, USA or UK, you won’t find people of that country saying they want to take between their government and Binance. They will take their government immediately. So, what we need to understand is that Binance, in operating in Nigeria, ought to know that they are in Nigeria’s territory. So, first you must respect the law of the country.

What Binance can say, which I can listen to them is to say, we have not broken any law of Nigeria, but whether the government has jurisdiction over Binance to question them, or to sanction them, yes, the government does. The only thing Binance can do is to get lawyers to say, look, we studied your law very well. We have not broken them because Nigeria is a country of laws. So, Binance does not have a duty to help Nigerian government implement its policy. The only duty Binance has, like any other entity, is not to break any law in Nigeria. If you break any law in Nigeria, you are really going to be in soup with the government of Nigeria.

In fact, if you are flying over Nigeria’s airspace as a pilot, you can commit an offence even though you don’t land Nigeria. That is why when you are flying nowadays from Europe and you are coming to Nigeria, they don’t fly over Niger. They don’t disrespect Niger. Niger has no air system to bring down any aircraft. Niger has no method of enforcing the law. The people just obey the law because Niger says don’t fly over my airspace, full stop.

So, it is good to let people know if we have friends abroad who are following us. We should tell them that there are laws in our country and they should not come and break them. So, the government is right to question them.

But, the government itself needs to stop its own criminality within the government because many of the crises that you find in foreign exchange came from the state house and the central bank.

So, the government itself should stop being a criminal against his own laws, it will be a good example. But, it doesn’t mean that the government of a country has to be perfect before you obey the law of that country. There’s no perfect government in the world. And I believe Nigerians are patriotic people for the younger ones who were born at a time where they can’t really tell what patriotism actually means, I am sure they are learning.

Most people believe that wage increase will solve all the workers’ problems. Looking at the current demand by the labour union for a wage increase, what do you think will be the solution to the perennial demands of wage increase by organized labour in Nigeria?

First and foremost, there are things we need to understand in basic economics. Having more money does not guarantee you anything. Everybody who’s living today has more money than Julius Caesar. Anybody who’s living today has more money because at that time, the entire British economy was not up to one billion pounds for the first 1,000 years of her existence. Purchasing power is what is important. So, what we should focus on is what the money can buy, not the volume of the money that is with the minimum wage. How much was my father earning when he married my mother? He was not earning 20,000 pounds at that time a year. So, now can you pay anybody N20,000 a week and they will not be cursing you?

But, you have to increase the volume of housing available. You have to increase the volume of food stuff available. You have to increase the number of classrooms available. You have to increase the spaces available for productivity by making sure you ramp up production. As for the organised labour, they are a subset of the Nigerian political class. They don’t represent the workers. I am not saying that to insult the present leadership or anything. No, it is just the structural part of it. Before you can be a member of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) or the Trade Union Congress (TUC), you must have a job. And there are more people without job than people with job.

If you are unemployed, you are not a member of any labour union because it’s only for workers. So, the challenge we are facing is how to put more people in the workforce. They are not as representative as you think. Secondly, productivity and things that can affect productivity are the things that labour is supposed to be fighting for, not just wage control. If the government is bringing a policy that is going to affect productivity, labour should know that there will be job loss.

That was the difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney when the election was decisive. When you ask people of Michigan, who they will vote for, they will tell you that they will vote for Obama, who saved their jobs, not Mitt Romney, who wrote an article, ‘Let Detroit be bankrupt.’ So, those workers are not voting according to ethnicity, religion or any politician that can give them money to mobilise them and settle their leadership, they are voting according to their interest.

If you save General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, you have saved thousands of jobs. You have saved thousands of families, and you have saved millions of people. So, I want labour to engage the government more meaningfully, not to just negotiating with N1 million per month. What matters is that you must ensure that employment is higher and that unemployment is lower and that you support only a government policy or a government arrangement that is working towards full employment, because when you have more people in the workforce, you have a bigger labour base. There are more members of the APC than other members of the NLC.

There are more members of the PDP than members of the NLC because how many people are employed in the country? How many are all the civil servants combined? If you say you are road transport union, how many vehicles are on the road? If you say you are a member of railway, how many trains, how many train drivers in Nigeria, how many doctors, how many hospitals do we have? This is because the economy is shrinking relative to the exponential growth of the population. Where was NUBIFEE when the government was selling all its banks? Where were all these people?

So, I want us to go back to that liberal movement of that time which is pro economy, and pro productivity. How can you close all the textile factories? There will have been no Adam Oshiomole. Where are those textile factories around Aswani area, and in Kaduna? Where are they today? That is what labour should be talking about. Why is it that the government is not employing people? That’s because the government is not efficient by doing its duty. With due respect, as bad and as poorly performing as the government is, the labour movement, as currently constituted, is worse. The efficiency is worse.

So, we need to have a systemic review of what we want to do. Go and study life of Tony Ben and those who came from the labour movement in British politics, where they were going before they got derailed by Thatcherism and all of that. So, we need to understand that the only way to solve the problem is to get people to be reproductive. And that’s what I’ve done my entire life. I always intervene sector by sector, whether I am interested in it, whether it’s profitable or not, to try to see if I can ignite productivity out of people. So, that’s why I have farms, anything that can bring people to be productive. And that is the direction we need to drive our government, don’t worry much about wages for the few.

If there is no enough rice in the market and the government is paying its own staff N1 million per month, how does that make food available for the unemployed? What about those who are not working for the government? Are you not seeing the system of which in Nigeria there’s no country that has it? So, there are many things we need to review. Labour should stop following the government up and down over wages, deal with the core policy, deal with the issue of employment, and with the issue of purchasing power. And the only connection between wages and price of goods is the cost of living allowance adjustment. If things are rising, you adjust. But, you must come from the point of view of purchasing power. I can tell you as we speak today, that there is not one single member of the federal civil service or state service that is living on their salary. Even President Tinubu is not living on salary.

Virtually everything that is wrong is heaped on the government. Does it mean that the people don’t have any role to play? Is it all about the government all the time?

I think everybody is trying to survive. You don’t grow an economy on survival mode; you grow an economy on productivity and creativity. So, when you hire a person in Nigeria, you verily have hired your enemy because the salary you pay the person cannot pay their rent, cannot pay for their children’s education, and cannot pay for their food. So, both the employer and the employer are lying to each other. If you see your secretary come to work, wear a dress with lipstick and everything and the hair trimmed, if you just calculate from head to toe, you will know that she’s not buying all of those from the salary you pay her.

As President Tinubu is the president of Nigeria, you can go and ask him, as an accountant, if he knows that his own private secretary or the typist in the State House, or any of the workers in the Villa survives on his/her salary. So, right from the State House, there’s a problem. That’s why I said that we need fundamental adjustments and it can be done. We can go back to those days of Udoji (Committee Report), cost of living allowance, some adjustment and then some investment in infrastructure such that you can afford to have the basic things that you need. And that’s why I keep talking to Nigerians about chapter two of the constitution. That is the map to greatness of Nigeria. So, if you are lost, that is the GPs, go back to that chapter two. If we follow it, many of these problems will be resolved. There will be unity in the country; and there will be order in the country. And you will not have a bank manager or a bank MD that is earning a million times the earnings of a graduate in the bank. So, we need to make those changes before we can see real changes on the street. Our people are good people, but we don’t like failure.

We are not the kind of people that can submit to poverty. There are many countries that are endemic in poverty. They take it as their lot, but in Nigeria, your driver still wants his son to be a medical doctor like yours. He wants his daughter to be a pharmacist like yours. He wants his youngest son to be a judge, so he has to be a lawyer. So, he’s looking for the money; he is earning N50,000 a month that he wants to put his child in private school, not in government school; he knows the government school is not good. He wants to put his child in a private primary school next to them where he’s paying N5,000 every month from the N50,000 he is earning. But if you go to countries that are poor, they just accept. Some will not go to school at all. But, Nigeria is different. So, that is why people like your driver may kidnap you because his budget is bigger than his salary.

So with a very aggressive population like that, they are not only aggressive at home, anywhere you go in the world, they will do anything to make money because our educational system, both at home and in the public schools, is not teaching us citizenship, patriotism, and certain moral code anymore; and our religious entities, whether it’s Islam or Christianity, or a mix of them, are all cynical at this point. It’s all another theatre for profiteering and gaining power or influence. We need to go back and produce better citizens to reward those citizens with exemplary leadership. The leaders cannot be doing what he says we should not do. If you say I should not be travelling abroad, why is the president travelling with a large crowd to Qatar?

During the Jonathan administration, the APC came up with all kinds of narrative about corruption in the Jonathan administration. By the time the Buhari administration left, the corruption allegation against it appeared worse. What would you have done differently from what Tinubu is doing now?

Corruption is a tale. Corruption is a reality. If you call your opponent corrupt, you are already tarnishing his way of fighting in politics. You will see Trump; anybody who doesn’t support him is corrupt; corrupt Hillary Clinton, corrupt Biden. So, corruption is a political language. If you see people with a corrupt case, even if the person has a clear case of corruption, they’ll say he is indestructible, he’s blameless. If they stay under a person whom they don’t like his politics, they’ll say he’s a rogue, he’s a thief. Some elements of politics can make allegations of corruption without evidence. So, I don’t take that seriously.

But, for a government, the only way you can show me that somebody who was there before you or any other person is corrupt is for you to use the legal system to prove it by making sure that you arrest the people, investigate first and then you can apprehend them and take them through the legal process. But, if you are just murmuring because in the case of Buhari, he came and said everybody was corrupt, but the corrupt people later became his friends and became very comfortable with them. I see those who were cowards and ran away out of panic but the rest stayed behind, supported his second term by contributing money to his campaign. Even the first campaign that he ran, the party itself was full of corruption.  Those who were the foundation members of that party, including serving governors, were the one buying private jet, carrying him up and down, buying clothes for him and everything for his campaign.

With due respect, I didn’t take the corruption seriously. I didn’t take that seriously. In the case of the current government, I don’t know whether they are the ones spreading the rumour but officially, the head of the EFCC has not come out to say ABC and D in Buhari’s government is corrupt. He hasn’t come out. You haven’t seen the Attorney General of the Federation who is in charge of enforcing our law and enforcing our constitution and ensuring abolition of corruption come out to say that so and so in Buhari administration has been found guilty of corruption or indicted for corruption. He hasn’t come out. The president himself attended a book launch for the former president and had very good things to say about him.

He even said that the president served very well. I have heard of some names being mentioned but I’m waiting, and until I see concrete evidence because maybe they just find it convenient to say that the government before them had taken certain policies, had missed many opportunities, has lost a lot of people’s resources. That is why the government is having a rough start. If that’s what they are trying to say, that will not work because majority of those who are in this government were in that government too. So, some were ministers, now they are special advisors. Who is president now was party leader. The person who is in Senate now was party chairman. So, it is difficult for you to say that your own party member or senior brother was robbing the country blind and you kept quiet. If you robbed the country the first time, you see supporter in second term and even now you are still praising him.

So I don’t want to go into all of that. What I want to say is that if I were the person in the State House, I would abolish corruption in my government because it is the duty of the government to abolish corruption inside the government. It’s not the duty of the government to abolish corruption in the country. Then the police and law enforcement agents will now abolish corruption in the country. So, that is where my focus will be to make sure that if you have broken the law, you have committed an infraction, the government will hand you over.

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