A former Senator between 1999-2003 Olabiyi Durojaiye, spoke about the state of the nation, most especially the issues of economy and the high rate of insecurity in an interview with Punch Newspaper
In terms of security, economy and anti-corruption, do you think Nigeria is better or worse than it was in 2015 when the current administration began?
I’m not happy about the security situation. I am one of those who campaigned for this administration and I believe this administration can deliver, so we need to cooperate. One of the ways is for us to have a new constitution. Whether it is the People’s Democratic Party that comes back or another party, with this type of constitution we are using, it would be difficult to satisfy the yearnings of Nigerians. It is the constitution that is at fault and that is what we must correct. We have men in the All Progressives Congress who are capable enough to deliver the goods, it is the constitution that is our headache.
What would you say to people who claim the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), refuses to listen to the yearnings of the people and may not heed the calls for a new constitution?
I don’t think the President is a man who doesn’t listen. But the fact remains that it has not been up to three weeks that the (southern) governors (banned open grazing in their states). By the time 17 governors in this country, covering the entire South (take a position) with this statement that I’ve made, which is what people have been saying individually and as groups, I’m sure those who are advising the government will certainly advise that they should take a second look. We are not just saying this for the sake of saying it. I’m sure he is a man who will listen. I know he will listen.
If restructuring is implemented, do you perceive any losers or winners?
Everybody will be the gainers, I don’t see anybody losing by having a good framework. That is what helped America. Even the blacks are not losers in America today. At least, a black man has been president. If their constitution was not elastic enough to accommodate everyone, it would have been difficult for a black man, who is a minority and in fact of direct African origin, not a third or fourth generation African descended from slaves. So, there will be no loser. All we have to do is to cooperate to make it work. That is what helped America. Everywhere Americans are, they put their country first because the American government will do anything to protect the interest of their citizens anywhere they may be. Let us put our constitution right. Let it be a constitution of the people and not a military constitution. We have said goodbye to military rule, we should say goodbye to their constitution.
Are you not worried that there are people who benefit from the current structure as well as the ongoing conflicts and they may not support any change?
If what you say is true, then those people should think twice because it may be a pyrrhic victory, that is, something you gain now and makes you happy only to find that you will lose multiple of it in the near future, sooner than you anticipate. If you’re gaining something at the expense of the masses suffering, someday, they will look back and strike you. He who stands should be careful lest he fall. That is why all those ancient empires never lasted, they all collapsed. So, whoever has an advantage had better use it carefully because someday, something will snap. We’ve seen a warning shot in the #EndSARS protests. Those who are familiar with history will remember the French Revolution of the 18th century. It was what led to the rise of Napoléon Bonaparte. It’s not what you aim to achieve that you eventually get once force is introduced in the midst of human dissatisfaction. You cannot suppress human beings all the time, so one has to be very careful.
The President recently complained that despite his orders to shoot anyone with an AK-47 rifle, banditry was still festering. What do you think is the problem?
It is the commanders, soldiers and military officers he gave the orders to that should either shape up or ship out. It’s as simple as that. The President’s order must be obeyed, so the commanding officers that the President gave the order to must either shape up or ship out. They have to carry out the order of the President. There are no two ways about it.
What should be done if they don’t comply?
They know. They have to resign or they will be sacked.
The President has expressed his desire for another loan of $6bn to finance the 2021 budget deficit of about N5tn. Do you think that is justifiable?
To be candid, I have been shuttling between Ijebu and Abeokuta in the past one week. I have not been getting the newspapers every day so I am not aware. It was when I arrived that I saw something on the network news about the need to borrow money. I don’t know the details. Now that I’m back in Lagos, I will ask for arrears of these reports and find out. But the President has economic advisers and the Central Bank of Nigeria is also there. The CBN will be able to advise him on the implications of what magnitude (of loans) this economy can sustain over the next few years. If it is something we cannot do, they will advise Mr President to be careful about it.
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum recently recommended a pump price increase from N162 to between N385 and N408.50. How do you think this will impact the average Nigerian?
I know it will affect Nigerian business people, suppliers of foodstuffs and so on because it means the drivers will charge more to carry things from the farm to the market. That is further inflation. It will be risky to further inflate the economy that is causing hardship to the people. We have to be very careful about such things.
Actually, the increase in pump price of petrol was recommended in the context of the removal of subsidy, especially in the light of the dwindling remittance by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to the nation’s coffers.
Are we sincere as a people to ourselves? Is it not a winner-takes-all sort of situation? If we give subsidy and the thing is done judiciously as it should have been done, the hardship should not be so much on the people. The Yoruba have an adage that says, “when honey touches your mouth, you should quickly lick it.” There is no point getting rich and getting fat at the expense of the people. I’ve told you, the #EndSARS protest last October is a pointer to our people to be very careful. All these middlemen who supply these things (petroleum products) will get subsidy and they will be laughing all the way to the bank all the time.
If the fuel pump price is so high, it is reflected on the drivers carrying produce from the farms to the towns and so on, and the prices will be so high. If people are not able to feed themselves, someday, they will get into the streets and those who are comfortable are in danger. I don’t pray it happens.
If you read the history of the French Revolution, a mob looked at all the people who were robust and said to one another, ‘All the people with big bellies have swallowed the gold trinkets of their wives and that is what makes their tummies protuberant, begin to disembowel them!’ They started disemboweling all fat people. They tore so many tummies only to find faeces, not gold. But they had killed so many people. Somebody then said, ‘Wait, all this time we have been disembowelling people and not a single trinket has been found. Stop!’ But people had already died. That is the type of mob rule we must avoid. It has happened in other places before, it could happen here.
Let those who are laughing all the way to the bank today remember that the people have feelings. The day they revolt, even innocent people might suffer. So, it is not just the government alone, even ourselves as individuals, cartels, trade unions and motor dealers’ increasing prices every now and then, there is a limit. Make haste slowly. We should be able to put things in order before revolutionary bloodletting comes as a solution because that is what we believe it is leading to.
There is a lot of political positioning ahead of the 2023 elections with supporter groups springing up. One of those believed to be in the running for president is the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Do you talk about that?
I don’t want to talk about that. I would rather say, let’s solve the problem that is in our hands first—stability of the country. There is a proverb in Latin that says, primum vivere deinde philosophari, meaning let us secure life before we begin to philosophise. Before all these speculations and debates, let there be safety. The country must be stable first and we must ensure we have a constitution that is workable and acceptable to the people. I would like that to be done quickly so that nothing tampers with the election. When we get to the election, Asiwaju is a formidable, experienced person, the type that could contest the presidency in any country. There will be others too who will come and the people will decide who they prefer. They will look at their pedigree and background.
But it’s too early for that, what is important now is let there be safety and security in this country. Let people who are afraid and want to secede be comforted that once we are together, justice will be done to them and there will be peace and unity. Then those who believe the country belongs to an exclusive class should learn the lesson that they cannot hold it for long. The Yoruba have a proverb that says, what the greedy man has is not his own, because in the process of getting more, the little in his hand will get out of control.
So, first things first, let’s have safety and security of the country and oneness such that the youth will have confidence and faith in their own future because they seem to have no faith. If we put it right, it will be easier for whoever emerges as Mr President in 2023. He won’t have as much criticism as we have now. It will be in the interest of those to contest to have a stable constitutional review and put it behind us. There is still time to do it; if we agree to start now, before the end of this year or early next year, we would have settled it.
We would have a referendum and the whole country would agree that ‘this is the type of country we want through more power to the federating units.’ That is, more responsibility to the grass roots—local and state police, while very few at the federal level. Most things that are at the federal level should be devolved and then when we have an election, it will be smooth sailing. We will be able to take the most experienced and competent candidates at that time. We don’t know how many are coming yet. But I have nothing against Asiwaju.
What do you think it will take to achieve restructuring as a country?
It is if we all agree now, time is of the essence. I’m not the only one who has been talking, many people have been talking before. This is the first time I’m breaking the ice. I’ve refused to talk for the past eight to nine months because I’ve written my views to the National Assembly hoping that they will do something. But for nine months, people have been suggesting that any elder statesman who has seen nothing in all that is going on appears to be happy with what is happening. I’m not happy, I grew up in this country and I’m 88 years old. Nigeria has never been like this before in terms of insecurity.
I enjoyed travelling at night. Now, one has to recite Psalm 121 every. Yesterday (May 20), I was in Abeokuta for a meeting. The day before, I was in Ijebu for a meeting. I had to return at night and we were looking left and right, it was uncomfortable. Driving after 9pm is a big risk. Even during the day, people are being attacked and kidnapped. It was never like this before. The herdsmen I grew up to know were friendly people, they only carried sticks. You would say, ‘Sanu.’ They would say, ‘Sanu yowa,’ and pass by. They were peaceful people, not people with AK-47. Things have changed and I’m not happy with what is happening now.
I don’t know of any reasonable person who can say he is happy with the insecurity situation in the country now. That is what we must put right first, then routine things like periodic elections every four years will follow in a peaceful atmosphere. Then you can go and campaign, and return at 2am, sometimes. I ran for president of this country before. I drove all the way to Sokoto State, Maiduguri, Calabar and Port Harcourt, every nook and cranny of this country. Day and night, I was travelling. I dare not do that now. It’s not safe, it’s suicidal to be travelling the way we used to. Something bad has happened in terms of the security of this country. You must put it right first!
What do you say to the APC members who believe you should not criticise the government?
We have a means of criticising. If there is something wrong, we should be able to criticise, but not destructive criticisms. If you have means of correcting from within the system, you should try to explore that through the party hierarchy. Make resolutions at party meetings that ‘this thing is bad, let’s make amends to this and that.’ We would not be happy to destroy a house we helped to build. It’s our own government, I’m not happy as things are. If we are silent, they say it is because we are happy we are in government, but we can’t be in government forever. People were in government before us, someday somebody will come again. That is life, it’s continuous.
How come you look so young and fit at 88?
That is the grace of God. You’ve seen the pictures of my dad and mum. To some extent, I inherited good genes. I have never been a drunk or smoker. Whatever you do, do in moderation. Discipline yourself—no excessive eating and so on; this is important apart from good genes, which is the work of God. If the family you are born to is one where whooping cough is hereditary, it is likely you would inherit it. It’s part of grace that you are among healthy people. My father lived to 87 plus, my mother up to 92, and my elder brother 91. So, to some extent, we are lucky. We have good genes but again it is all part of the grace of God and discipline. The only thing I need to watch is that I do not sleep long enough. I work until 12am, sometimes 1am; seldom do I have siesta. I may have 20 missed calls in the past two hours that we have been talking. But the glory goes to God Almighty.
I walk a kilometre every evening, unless the rain disturbs or I am on the road travelling. The local government election is coming up now and we have been having series of meetings. Everybody wants to have a stake, everybody wants to be councillor or chairman. You have to persuade some of these people but they still say, ‘Baba, you can’t retire now o. We need your wisdom and experience.’ My children are complaining that ‘you’re stretching yourself so much.’ Some friends say, ‘Don’t abuse God o! God has been so generous to you. With a very strong physique and good health, don’t overstrain it.’ I’m trying to avoid overstraining it but God may have his purpose for preserving me, it may be to be able to help and give some advice that will help the family, community and country I belong to. Nobody chose whose family member or what nationality he would be. It’s God’s exclusive choice, so we make the best of it.