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Nigeria at 59: Nothing to celebrate, says Ladoja

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Rashidi Ladoja

Former Governor of Oyo State Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja, who clocked 75 recently, used the occasion to speak to ROTIMI AGBOLUAJE in Ibadan about his political life, his impeachment in office for standing against the Third Term agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nigeria at 59, and expressed his disappointment with developments in the most populous black nation on earth. Excerpts:

How eventful has been your 75 years on earth?
There are successes and failures. There are triumphs and disappointments. And in the long run, I will say that I’m grateful to God that I can claim more triumphs than disappointments. When you get to a stage in life, you ask yourself, what is important? Then it is not your success and triumphs that are important but are you leaving the world better than you met it? And where is my world? My world is here; my world is Ibadan. My world is Oyo State. My world is Nigeria. My world is Africa before I now talk about the other world. Am I leaving this world better than I met it? That is why I said there have been triumphs and disappointments.

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Talking about successes and failures, most Nigerians only know Ladoja the politician. So, when you mention successes and failures, they will measure it in terms of successes and disappointments in politics.

As a businessman, did you experience disappointments?
Of course, there are disappointments. You expect certain things to go this way, but due to factors that are not within your control, either change in policy or something else, you meet failures. You think that you should go this way, but somebody is saying you should go another way and you have no choice but to do so So, those are the things that you face that can bring disappointments.

By now I think Nigeria should be self-sufficient in food. That is the most important thing for any human being after air, water, and shelter. But where are we? Are we self-sufficient? I am not even talking about the quality of food but availability. I mean Nigerians are hungry today. Even though I measure with my own standard, I will say, ‘yes.’

So, you can see if I want to rate from my own side, I will say, ‘yes, I am living better than I was living when I was young.’ If you look at it from the angle that Nigeria has got this vast land and you cannot exploit it correctly. That is a disappointment. You have Nigeria that has petroleum but can’t define what the country uses. It is a disappointment, with all the engineers that we have trained. Nowadays, I hear the brain drain among doctors is very high, which means you are training them for the world and not your own use. People still suffer from diseases. Maybe some of us can afford medical care.

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Disappointments about Nigeria and Africa are worse than I can think of. But for me, I can say practically, I can live anywhere in the world, but this is my home. This is where I was born. This is where I grew up and this is where I will die. So, I like leaving it better than I met it. People will start telling you life expectancy is higher now, that diseases are being cured. But are we the ones that contributed to those breakthroughs?
I remember very well there was time smallpox was very high and I was just entering primary school then when they started giving us vaccination. That has helped a lot in prevention. We are still looking for a solution to this malaria that is endemic. Most of the malaria drugs are not even produced in Nigeria. Of course, we drink agbo, that is herbs. But have we refined it to the level that we can say we are comfortable with it? Do we know the dose? These are all the disappointments that you face, starting from the fact that you can’t even feed yourself in a vast land. I can say I feed myself though because I plant my rice. I eat ofada rice; even, I make an experiment with guinea fowl. I rear it but that is not sufficient.

That is why I said I’m not going to talk about my own growth. People will say Ladoja, ‘you have grown, your father was just a mere councilor. You went on to become a Senator and then a governor; so you are successful.’ But the more you think, the more you are disappointed because you find out you are not where you should be. It is not your own personal achievement that is important but what your collective achievement as a group is. That is what is important.

Those are parts of the disappointment. And at times, you know there are solutions and you are capable of bringing those solutions. As I was telling someone, a serious government can solve the issue of vegetable oil within two years without closing the borders. You tell soldiers to close the border because people are bringing in rice and oil. I told you I plant my own ofada rice which is more expensive than the imported rice which means we can do more but everything is interwoven.

My father did not eat groundnut oil; he ate melon oil and it was sufficient. You can plant egusi two times a year. So if you have the land and serious people to cultivate it, you can process it and overcome the challenge. Nigeria is a complex country where you don’t know where the next arrow is coming from.

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How has the country fared at 59?
I am disappointed that we are where we are, where we can’t feed ourselves. We can’t ensure quality education for our children again. We can’t be proud to be where our equals are. When you go out and see what Dubai is now, you go to the Asian Tiger countries, you will ask your question, why? We know that all of us have problems. I think maybe something must be wrong somewhere. There is nothing to celebrate.

People believe the presidential system we operate is not good enough and that we should go back to the parliamentary system we had in the First Republic?
Apart from the fact that they say it is expensive, I don’t see the difference between them. What about Britain that is the father of the parliamentary system? Did the Prime Minister not suspended the House? All those ones are noise-making. It is a question of the will to give the best. You know that we always have the challenges of tribalism which is brought about by shallowness of our minds. How can we not have refineries when Saudi Arabia is processing more than it needs? But we are not even processing what we need and I am sure we have more engineers in Nigeria than in Saudi Arabia. What is wrong? We have no electricity. We have been hovering around 4,000 megawatts for many years. There are so many things. It is not only the leadership; it is also the follower-ship. People connect with electricity illegally. Nigeria is a place where before you do anything, you have to go and pay money to the bank. Why don’t we pay to the office that is in charge and then he gives you a receipt. We base our system on nothing. Those things other people term, as nothing are what we base our system on. Even ordinary Cotonou here; they take electricity for granted. They take water for granted. They take gas for granted. That is what we waste our time on here. So, the important thing we don’t have time for them.

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You were able to manage Baba Lamidi Adedibu when he wanted to create problems for you when you started your political career in the Third Republic, but when you became governor, you couldn’t manage him and he championed your impeachment. So what happened then?
I managed him. Everybody knew that there was a good rapport between me and baba. If Baba had views on six issues and I came and I was able to take baba out of the groove, by the time he came back, baba might drop five for me. That was how close we were. And baba also knew that I didn’t spare any effort in doing things and in looking after his interest. But during the campaign, the popular opinion was, ‘Ladoja is good but would Adedibu allow his work?’ Remember (former Governor Kolapo) Ishola’s time. That was the noise. But I used to say, ‘look, I am a father, I am a grandfather, I have built my life. If I am elected, the bulk stops on my table.’

Even if baba is good, what about the people that surrounded baba? On the day of the inauguration, they went to pull down (Chief Obafemi) Awolowo’s statue in front of Government House. That was the first crisis we had. They took it to baba’s place. Some of the baba’s boys were going to Gbagi to interfere and be collecting protection fees from the market people and in some cases, when you refused to pay, they would break into your shops. They were allocating spaces on the road for people to put containers and destroying the master plan of the place. In some cases, some of the baba’s boys would go to the forestry and arrest people and collect money from them. At times, they harassed and imprisoned them in their homes.

No sane government would sit down and allow such things. Most of the baba’s boys believed that they were in government; that therefore there was no law. So, that was how we started having issues. So, it was not that I didn’t manage baba. When baba sat down and people surround him and start putting stories to him, I knew that baba could talk but he couldn’t disturb the government’s work and it was the same baba that would encourage them.

So baba (Adedibu) just capitalised on this. I have said it many times that 13 of baba and (Otunba Adebayo) Alao-Akala couldn’t have impeached me. I knew that democracy was a game of competition, a game that has got rules. The rule of impeachment is that you must have two-thirds of the House (of Assembly) and I knew there was no way I could have less than one-third. It opened the way for selfish people who just wanted money and there were so many negotiations. There was one that actually made the impeachment possible. It was (Chief Olusegun) Obasanjo’s third term. Obasanjo knew there was no way I would be around and the House of Assembly would pass an amendment to the constitution allowing a third term. So that is it; that’s why Ladoja had to go.

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And also, maybe it was a mistake, maybe it wasn’t. I knew Obasanjo before I became governor. I knew him when he was not the Head of State. I used to visit him in Ota after he left the government and we were very close. So, when I heard about the third term, I told baba (Obasanjo) that I heard about it. I asked him if it was true. He asked me, ‘who told me?’ I said did it really matter who told me? I said it’s a question of whether it’s true, and he said, ‘it wasn’t true.’ I said thank God. And I said, ‘Baba, if not I would’ve said maybe you don’t know God. I said God made it possible for you to be president for eight years and this is a presidency you are not qualified for.’ He said, ‘not qualified? Am I not a Nigerian or am I not of that age?’ I said, ‘no, Baba, that is not it. You know that in a civilian regime, the presidency is meant for politicians and you are not a politician. They came to call you. I said there was a time you asked me what is (Shehu Musa) Yar’Adua looking for in the government? What did he forget in the Government House? Secondly, in the presidential system, before you start the election, you must have tons and tons of your own money. You just came out of prison, you had no money, I know that. I’m sorry, baba, and with all those minuses, God said you are the president for eight years. Let God be the one who will decide who will be the next president.’ He said, ‘thank you very much, I appreciate.’

Didn’t you study his countenance?
I have said what I wanted to say. Yoruba people say, ‘if you and your friends talk and you smile out, you have not told yourself the truth.’ He knows I told him the truth and I am convinced I told him the truth. At the end of it he also said he didn’t even ask for the third term which is not true. He did. So, when I got home in the evening, (former) Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel, called and said, ‘Governor-General, you came to Ota.’ I said, ‘yes, that I came to discuss with baba.’ He said, ‘what did you discuss with him?’

I said, ‘I discussed the third term.’ He said, ‘Oh God, you have pinched baba on his sore. Baba said he would turn you to nobody.’ I said, ‘if God allows him.’

So that was the impeachment!

You see, it wouldn’t have mattered so much if I did not lose some of my staff. We went to Abuja for something. We were coming and we had an accident on the way; that dampened my spirit. Two brilliant young men with wives and children died. Those were the ones that were my political staff. About three or four others that were civil servants also died.

And when things got to that level, people and other governors that came said we should go and beg baba. So, we went on January 10, 2006 which happened to be ileya day. After slaughtering my ram, we decided to meet in Abeokuta. We went and we didn’t take (former Ekiti State governor Ayodele) Fayose along because he was baba’s son. (Olusegun) Agagu of Ondo, (Olagunsoye) Oyinlola of Osun and (Gbenga) Daniel of the Ogun States and I went to him. They knelt down so I had to kneel down too. Oyinlola is a very good orator; he presented a very brilliant case. Agagu supported him; Daniel and I didn’t talk. He now said, ‘well, Rashidi, go and resign!’ I said, ‘No!’ He asked, ‘why?’ and I asked, ‘why should I resign?’ Then he said, ‘if you don’t resign, you will be removed.’ I said, ‘nobody can do it.’ He said, ‘why?’ and I said, ‘because you can’t get two-third’ and he said, ‘two-third my foot’ and got up and Daniel ran after him.

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Three of us sat down and were talking. Then Prince Bola Ajibola came in and said, ‘what is wrong with you people? You are leaders in your own right. It is not every time you will run away from a fight. He said I have gone to see Segun (Obasanjo) plead that he should leave you in peace because you have not done anything wrong. That, in fact, everybody is praising your government.’ That he also knew that they are praising my government; that my education policy is good and I am not corrupt. I said, ‘thank you’ and he said he was going to tell us a story titled Jafitafita which means ‘fight for your right by shouting to the world to come to your rescue.’

You fought to install the current governor in Oyo State, but since the election was won, it looks as if you’ve distanced yourself. Have you really distanced yourself?
No, I have not distanced myself.

What is your level of participation in this government if you have not distanced yourself?
When (former Governor Kolapo) Ishola was elected, I told him you were the one elected. If you don’t call me to eat with you, I don’t need to come and poke my nose into it. When he needs advice, he comes. He was here for two hours a couple of days ago. When he needs advice, he can come. I have not been in government since 2007. When I left the place, I have not been to the secretariat since then. What am I going to do there now? There have been three governments in place since then. He is my son. It’s not me; he is in charge now. When you grow old, there is a time when your father will not even call you by name again. My father was calling me Alhaji; later on, I became Senator; I became governor and he called me governor.

That’s how it should be. So, he is in charge. God has a way of doing things. My objective was to dislodge APC (All Progressives Congress) government. Particularly, I know that my brother didn’t build a government that I could be proud of. That’s (former governor Abiola) Ajimobi. He had to g; if he had to install somebody, it meant his regime would go on. Even if the person wants to make a change, it may not be possible to make the change. God made it possible for us to say, ‘look if this coalition will make it possible for us to send Ajimobi away… My primary objective was not to rule Oyo State.’

Are you proud of Governor Seyi Makinde so far?
Of course, yes. I am but you have to understand one thing. Seyi is coming from another background. He has not even settled down. Please, let’s give him a chance to settle down. He has just made his commissioners and we have to understand that when you are looking for something, particularly when you want to be governor, you must have made a lot of commitments on the way. When he was making his commitments, maybe he didn’t think there would be any coalition. Now he is trying to find a way of balancing it. His supporters have not complained to me yet over appointments. Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) told me I should not interfere. I should let them fight their battle.

I said Seyi was here. We talked about how everything was going on and he assured me that he had not forgotten the pledges he made.
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