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I’m not pleased with pace of development in Nigeria, says Ojikutu

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Ojikutu

Alhaji Sinatu Ojikutu, a former deputy governor of Lagos State, spoke to SEYE OLUMIDE on Nigeria’s 59th Independence anniversary and why the country has failed to develop to her full potential as expected. Excerpts

Is Nigeria a country to be proud of at 59?
I am not really pleased with the pace of development in this nation and I want to believe that millions of Nigerians are thinking in this line, including those in the corridors of power. Nigeria could have done a lot better than what it is now, especially when you compare where the country was over 20 to 25 years ago and what it is now. I could remember my first visit, as a pilgrim to Saudi Arabia. I take that country because it has the same base of revenue with Nigeria, which is oil. When I visited the country, Nigeria was far better. I entered the place for religious purposes. There was nothing to envy about Saudi Arabia. I was opportune to visit the place twice in between and could see a lot of development. Now I went there this year and I was crying for Nigeria because the total was a 360-degree development. I entered America like I was in Tokyo; the development that has taken place in that desert land (Saudi Arabia) and what they have done with their oil money is incredible. I also passed through Dubai, the same place I went about 15 years ago that was a desert; it has taken off. Nigeria is yet to take its rightful place among the comity of nations.

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I wonder how our leaders can be proud of themselves with the way this country is, especially those who wield political offices. I imagine how any political leader in this country can be proud of the way we are. We rejoice in mediocrity and there is no vision; poor execution of budgets and our politicians take pride in grandstanding with nothing much to show for it. If they build one airport it is like they have built the entire nation.

Our public hospitals are moribund and unfortunately, Nigerians are being referred for medical services abroad whereas, in those days, the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital (UCH) was a referrer hospital. Citizens of Saudi Arabia used to come to UCH for medical attention. I am not happy because this is not where we are supposed to be. What makes it more annoying was my recent trip abroad.

At least, if you say you are going to the United States or Britain or any of the western world, you know they are developed but going to the Middle East that was no way near us at all before in terms of development, they are now ahead. Even with the same resources that we have and our politicians will travel out and stay in the best hotels in Dubai, ride the best of cars and use our money anyhow while the level of poverty (here) has reached a point where Nigeria is being counted as one of the poorest nations in the world. (For) whom are we grandstanding for that we are a rich country when we travel out?  The number of resources our leaders are spending on personal emolument must be looked into.
 
Imagine that Nigerians are still looking for a light, good roads, water, and other necessary infrastructure that the government should provide in this 21st century? It is a shame and people in government lavish our resources.

Would you ascribe leadership problems to these setbacks?
Our challenges started from the period the military came to power in 1966. The problems of Nigeria didn’t start yesterday, it started from the time of our founding fathers but then there was some decency. They weren’t too flamboyant because rule of law was working in those days. But today we have ‘plea bargaining’ where someone steals money and he is asked to go into agreement with the government on the amount he would forfeit. One of the shameful things in Nigeria is plea bargaining, that someone can steal N20 million and he will bargain to forfeit N5 million and then go free. The people coming after him will steal more than that. 

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But apart from leadership crisis, what about the structure of government we operate? Is it the right one?
It is too cumbersome. We don’t need this type of federal system. We need something in the pattern of the British system of government. We are very greedy in this country. Our sense of value in Nigeria is warpped.

When I was the deputy governor in Lagos State, at a particular function I tried to participate in an environmental programme, but I wondered at the way people shouted, ‘Madam, you can’t do that’ as if there is anything extraordinary in me taking a broom to sweep? As soon as our people get to any position, they become something else. Everything about us is upside down, I am sorry to say. We need real serious national re-orientation to help this nation. I wish President Muhammadu Buhari would be allowed to read what some of us are saying. This nation cannot continue to go like this; it is dangerous. Our economic development is not supporting our population growth.

Do you support the agitation for restructuring?
It is part of it. The military came with this unitary style of government in 1966 to enable them to rule properly, but there is no reason why we should continue like that. For development to actually take off let each of the regions be semi-independent and then contribute to the centre. I strongly support the idea that each state should use its resources to develop itself. There is no state in this nation that is not viable; the problem is that people are not putting on their thinking cap. If Malaysia and Singapore can be viable, I don’t see why any region in Nigeria cannot be viable. Laziness is part of what is destroying us. One of my biggest worries for this nation is the orientation of our youths. This government needs all the assistance it can get and my prayer is that he gets it.

But Buhari is being accused of nepotism? Do you agree?
He says that he can only work with the people that he knows and I feel he is skeptical about people he is not used to, but people are saying that his kit and kin are also not above board, which is a problem.
 
Something that puzzles me about this nation is the escalating state of insecurity. If it continues it may affect the corporate existence of this nation. Recently, they are calling on Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) to collaborate with security forces to fight insecurity. If it gets to that then we are likely going to get a government between a government.  But at the same time, I will appeal to our media people to desist from carrying fake news and the government should make a scapegoat of fake news carriers. 

What’s your view of Lagos in terms of development?
I have heard on several occasions where they are saying that the state achieved a lot since 1999, but I want to say categorically that no government in this state has bested Alhaji Lateef Jakande in terms of performance with the limited resources at his disposal then. I am hoping that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, will really showcase themselves as good ambassadors of Lagos. The immediate past governor, Akinwunmi Ambode outdid himself without taking any loan. I have not seen what other administrations did that was outstanding, except media hype.

    


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