A former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, speaks with journalists on the current economic downturn, highlighting where the country got it wrong, way out, the clamour for a ‘third force’, among others. DARE ADEKANMBI brings excerpts:
THERE is general lamentation about the economic downturn as a result of which most families are finding it difficult to feed let alone get a three-square meal. Growing up, did you witness anything of the scale of the current economic crisis?
Those of us who are above 70 years of age would say maybe it is because our consumption now is higher than what it used to be. In those days in our house, when we killed a chicken, it lasted us two or three days. But now, if you kill three chickens in the house, every child will be asking for the drumstick. We are in the current economic crisis because we eat a lot, but we don’t produce anything. I don’t think the crisis would have been of this magnitude if we had not had the military regimes that we had in the country. During their reign. The country made a lot of money. We can even say money came at the wrong time, the managers of the country at that time did not know what to do with the money. General Yakubu Gowon was reported to have said the problem was not money but how to spend it. We are now paying for some of those past errors. Our leaders in the pre-military days were focused and dedicated to service delivery. At that time, the competition among the regions was healthy and positive. While the North was proud of its groundnut pyramids, the West was talking about cocoa, Mid-West boasted about rubber and the East, palm oil. During that period also, nearly all communities had a means of catering for its people. At the age of eight or nine years, I went to my mother’s village at Odo Ona Kekere in Ibadan, where there was what was called Ebu, which was a local mini palm oil refinery. I earned my first salary from working there. I earned three shillings one pence working for three weeks. How many children do this today? How many communities have such a little artisanal facility? When we were young, eating rice was not an everyday affair. We ate rice only during the festivals or when a child was celebrating his birthday. Even the rice we ate then, it took about two hours to first of all sift it and remove sand before you now boil it. Later on, Uncle Bens rice came and now nobody wants to even talk about Ofada rice again.
As a country, we have moved from producing surpluses to importing what we can produce locally. If we had stayed on course with our level of development at that time, maybe we would not have been in this crisis. Have people forgotten the person who first imported meat into the country? Have you forgotten about General Murtala [Mohammed]?
Governments, before now, particularly the military, thought they were trying to satisfy the public and not knowing they were creating problems for the future. And since we had the Fourth Republic in 1999, how many military leaders have we had? Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as president was a military man in his psyche. President Muhammadu Buhari also in his psyche is a military man. They talk about discipline and how to instill discipline. But they have forgotten that instilling discipline will not solely solve Nigeria’s problems. We have to move with time.
The government is talking about agriculture and diversification of the economy from crude oil. But we have not moved from the artisanal method of agriculture to industrial and commercial one. In some places, 300 hectares of land can be cultivated by three or four people. Nowadays, where do people even get the money to procure the equipment because they can’t go and borrow money with the level of interest as high as 22 per cent. I don’t know how many farmers have borrowed money at a single digit interest rate being talked about by the government. I have talked to farmers and they said they had not got it. When we were young, about 60 per cent of the working populace was involved in agriculture. In other places, it was about five or 10 per cent. We are yet to see serious mechanized agriculture. All we have heard and seen is that government is just paying lip service to the issue of agriculture. Nobody has sat down to seriously take a look at the issue and what is involved. Some people are just doing other people’s jobs. The federal, state and local governments must define their jobs. How many of our young people, particularly in Ibadan or Oyo State in general, are interested in agriculture? Those into real farming particularly in Oyo State are the Benue, Togo, Benin people. Government needs to diversify the economy and turn to agriculture. Things are going to be tougher than government has told us because the psyche of our people needs to be reoriented. I only hope that we will be able to survive this hardship that we are all going through. I am affected too. I have not been buying vegetables from the market. I have been cultivating it myself.
Benue and Imo state governments have reduced the number of days civil servants are to work, while the remaining days will be used to farm…
A civil servant is a civil servant. You can’t force workers to do another thing. If the civil servants have interest in agriculture, let it be their hobby and choice. Are those governments saying there is no work for them to do as civil servants? That is not the solution to the problem. Obasanjo as military Head of State tried Operation Feed the Nation. The workers will have to have interest in agriculture. Have they given them the land to farm and the inputs? Civil servants are workers who should not become farmers by force and overnight. If they want to become farmers, it should be by choice and not by fiat.
Does it then mean the leadership does not understand the issue?
I think so too. The leadership is too far and remote from the people they are leading. Nigerians don’t need more than the basic things to live. How do we explain a situation where workers have not got salaries for months and governments expect them to be coming to work and if they fail to come, they will be threatened with sack? The measures being taken don’t add up. I don’t understand, for instance, how workers are coping without getting salaries for months? Maybe it’s because of our Yoruba-ness, which makes us our brother’s keeper. If someone has plenty garri, he will share it with others. Perhaps this is why workers still go to work without salaries.
Could this be one of the reasons people have said there can’t be a revolution in the country?
There is already a revolution going on in the country. A situation whereby people are saying ‘no’ is a silent revolution. It may not be general. Most of the groups and people who are saying no, their clamour is deeper than what we understand most of the time. The Boko Haram issue is deeper than the religious interpretation that some people are giving it. The sect might have gone to secure the support of ISIL and other terror-inclined groups. It is more of a social problem than a religious one. The first leader of the group, Yussuf, was said to have a doctorate degree. I only hope we will be able to contain it. Dr Goodluck Jonathan promised us that he was going to do it, he didn’t succeed. President Buhari also promised us and this is the second year. Yes, Buhari has uprooted them, but we still have pockets of attacks here and there from the sect. May it is better for us to sit down with them and have a dialogue.
We continue to pray we don’t fall into the same situation as countries who experienced Arab Spring. Anybody who saw Syria before and now will know that something has happened;Egypt before and Egypt today; Libya before and now, Iraq before and now. And these are areas where civilisation was advanced before now. We should continue praying that the type of revolution people are talking about does not happen in Nigeria. Generally, Nigerians are very good people who like peace and believe in God. In Nigeria, someone who has not eaten for a long time will tell you that God will do it. We should not task their patience.
There are talks about a third force political platform which will mop up all opposition parties into a big fold. Is Accord going to be part of the third force?
When the third force starts, we will see who and who are in it. Today, I am in Accord and our party is number one on the ballot paper. When and if there is a third force, we will be alive to witness it. But I think the political class should concentrate more on the economy now and maybe in the second half of 2018, politicking can then start. This is because, by that time, the current government will not be able to do anything is going to harm its electoral chances and maybe the government is doing it at the beginning now so that it can cushion the effect before mid-2018 when it will say its efforts have started yielding fruits and we make people believe that if they vote for their party again, life will be rosy. That is the normal political method anywhere in the world.
Do you subscribe to the change-begins-with-me campaign launched by President Buhari?
Yes, I believe in it since President Buhari said the change begins with him. He came on the platform of change and so the change must truly start with him. But what change are we talking about? What change are we expecting from a man who earns N18,000 a month and can’t meet his basic needs with his salary? How many kongo (modules) of garri can be buy with it? So, the change starts with all of us. I raise snail, vegetables and other farm produce for my own consumption in my house because the economic meltdown affects all of us.
What do you make of the anti-corruption crusade of the current administration?
It is mixed. Look at what Sanusi Lamido, who is a former CBN governor and now Emir of Kano, said. Sanusi does not believe this government is serious with its anti-corruption crusade. He said he, as an emir, can source $1 million by telephone at N197 and sell it at N400 and make handsome profit. This means he knew some people are doing this round tripping. Economy and corruption go together. As long as there are roadblocks, there will be corruption. Liberalisation policy is better. Do you need to bribe anybody now to get GSM or mobile telephone line? Corruption is caused because of red tape and blockades. Anything you want to buy in Nigeria now, the price has gone up and the sellers will say it is because naira has fallen against the dollar. Corruption is not only about politicians or civil servants stealing money.
What do you see as the way out of the current economic quagmire that the country is in?
The first thing is prayer. At Eid prayers, our Imam told us that God has said He is going to be testing His creatures from time to time and that we should take the current challenge as a test from God. He charged us to bear it and continue to pray that God will reverse it. All Nigerians must understand that government is us and that they are part of what is called government. If government says this is what we should do and we refuse to do it or just do a part of it, we are not helping the government. Nigerians should support Buhari to achieve his objectives for the country, particularly if the objective is what will take the country out of the woods. We should cooperate with government.