We don’t have thinking leaders —Ex-Attorney-general

Henry Idahagbon, lawyer and former Attorney-General and commissioner for justice, Edo State, speaks to SUYI AYODELE on the state of the  nation and how Nigerians have failed their fatherland by running a once prosperous country of nations aground.


How do you see the state of the nation at this present time?

Nigeria is walking on a precipice. It is at the brink of rolling over into a big socio-political and economic pit. Principally precipitated by bad leadership from independence and now compounded by the world economic downturn and this COVID-19 pandemic. But Nigerians are resilient people; we believe we will push through. But we need a paradigm shift in governance in this country. We have to take our people seriously. I believe the youths have sent a very powerful message through the EndSARS protest this year, before it was hijacked by a class of Nigerians people now refer to as hoodlums. I don’t see them as hoodlums. These are people who have been failed by the society. Nobody chooses to become a hoodlum. Whatever they have become is a reflection of our immediate environment and the society. I think they sent a very powerful message and I expect positive improvement and development in our country this New Year. We must listen to our youths; we must incorporate them into the governance structure. We must reduce the high rate of unemployment. We must get our people into working whether in the formal or informal sector; we have to provide employment for the younger generation of Nigerians. And we also have to bring them into governance. There are countries in the world today being ruled by the 30 years old:  a country like Austria. The Canadian prime minister is a very young man. We need to tap Nigerian resources both home and in the Diaspora. We have very many young Nigerians who are doing well. I don’t see why, for example, we cannot lead a delegation to the US Deputy Secretary nominee, the young Yoruba boy who has just been nominated to a very powerful position in America by Biden. I don’t see why we cannot lead a delegation to the boy and bring him to Nigeria to come and be governor or president or CBN governor, or something. We need direction. We can’t continue groping in the dark. So for me, as bleak as the situation is, I believe that with the EndSARS riots and protestations, a powerful message has been sent which will lead to positive development in this country, from next year, and then culminating more positive development in 2023 when we have to undergo another general election.


If you were to compare the present presidential system of government to when we were practising regional government, which will you prefer?

Of course, I will prefer regionalism. We have all been asking for resource control and devolution of powers to the states. What we are practising in Nigeria today is a Federal Government on paper by virtue of the constitution, but in practice, it is a unitary government. All the powers are concentrated in the centre, where only very few powers are given to the states and the councils. Even the allocation power evolved in 1979 constitution which has transmuted into the 1999 constitution now, the majority of the powers are given to the centre. So, I will go for regionalism. Let’s switch over to regional government. Let the South-South states become one region and then we can pull our resources together, create our own railway, create our own aviation system. There is no region in this country that is not viable. It is just that we all have been used to having free lunch by coming to Abuja every month and collecting allocation and our governors have not been thinking. We need younger governors. Virtually all of them, apart from one or two across the country today, are not thinking governors. They are just there, looking about how they can amass wealth for even their children yet unborn. We need some creative governors, somebody like Zulum in Borno; he is doing well and he has some level of followership across the length and breadth of this country now. So anytime, any day, I will vote for regionalisation of governance in the country.


Looking at all these, will you say that the present crop of leaders have failed the founding fathers of this nation?

I have no hesitation in saying yes to that question. I think we have all failed, including you, this interviewer and my humble self. I don’t think we have given our best to this country. And if we had, we will not have this level of poverty. We will not have this level of social disconnect that we have in the country today. So I think all of us, let us share the blame. Let’s be honest with ourselves, let us come to the basics, accept our faults and blames and let us turn a over new leaf. And let us start to serve Nigeria better. Let us put aside our personal interests. Let us look at collective interests. You know, the youths sent a message and I just think the leadership got it. During the EndSARS protest, politicians were looking for where to hide, the soldiers too. This means that when a people come together, the army becomes powerless. The brooms and the guns become powerless. If the EndSARS protest had lasted for more than that, even Burutai himself will run.

That is the truth. So for us not to run, for us not to have cause to be afraid of our people, let us listen more to them. And let us put in programmes and policies that will benefit our youths. Let us ask them what they want.  Abraham Maslow has enumerated the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, and clothing; let us ensure that the average Nigerian has access to good food, not just food, good nutritious food. Let us make sure they have access to affordable housing. Let us make sure that they have access to health. Then for us to develop, we just must have a good educational system. A situation where ASUU [Academic Staff Union of Universities] will be on strike for a full academic session and everybody will wake up and go about their normal daily routines as if nothing is happening should be unacceptable.  Let this ASUU strike be the last we will ever experience in this country. Let the government sit down with ASUU and those their members that are not serious should be weeded out of the university system. But those who are serious should be well remunerated.

And there should be a research funding made available to the universities. Our universities should be solid in terms of infrastructure, human capacity development so that they can be the true ivory tower they are expected to be. You will agree with me that many of the universities today are neither ivory nor tower because those things to make them that are not just not present and then we have students who have been at home for one year. Imagine, if a country can allow its youths to be at home for one year and they are not schooling… We just have to sit down, put the past behind us and resolve to build a better Nigeria. If we give our best to this country, in 10 years, we can rub shoulders with the developed countries in the world. We have the will, we have the natural resources, we have the human resources that we have not polished. We can polish them with good education system.

And the starting point is the point that we have not been following for the past 10 years. We must stop our leaders, starting from the president and everybody who occupies public office, from going abroad for medical care. Stop them and their family members from going abroad for medical care. Stop them and their family members from going abroad for education. If anybody must go abroad, it must be for tourism, visit and come back. We must all school here. So if they must continue with the ramshackle public schools that we have here, let the president’s son attend. And if they continue to neglect our health sector, well, let the president and all public office holders attend our health care and let them be taken care of here. Let nobody go to UK, go to Germany, go to US for medical. Let nobody go to these countries for educational advancement. No.

By the time we do this, we will be able to build a world structure in the educational system. This pandemic has given us a vista. Go to the Ministry of Health, I don’t see why they cannot build six regional referral hospitals in the country. There was a time the standard in UCH in Ibadan was very high. We were told that some presidents of other countries in the world used to come to UCH for medical attention. So why can’t we go back to that era? Ghana is building world class health centres. Kenya is extending railway services to across all the nooks and crannies of their country at a fraction of the cost of building railway from Lagos to Ibadan. We need to expand our railway network. Very good that the government met that programmes and is continuing with it. We must link every state capital with rail services so that we can free the pressures on the roads.

And if we are building roads, let us do quality roads that will last for a long time. When we do all these, Nigeria will bounce back. We have the capacity to bounce back. We are on the edge on the precipice, I have said that, but we are a resilient people, and we have the means, we have the grit to bounce back from our present predicament. All we need to have is focused leadership.  And when I talk about leadership, I am not talking about those who are in government. I am talking about a leadership that is collective. You as a journalist, you are a leader in your field. So if you are a journalist, like a musician sang years ago, journalist well. If you are a president, president well please. If you are a police IG, police it well. If you are Senate president Lawan, lawan it well. And if you are Gbajabiamila, then gbajabiamila well. If we all do it well, it will at the end of the day, transform to a better edifice called Nigeria.


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