2019 is Nigeria’s last window to save itself, says Adebanjo

Adebanjo

Mr. Rex Adebanjo is the presidential candidate of Youth Party of Nigeria (YPN). In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he insists that youths have the biggest potential to transform Nigeria at this time, stressing that the 2019 election provides an opportunity for young people to rescue the country

Why do you believe that the youth would make a difference in 2019 election?

Nigeria’s situation is like the analogy of the frog. If there is boiling water and you drop a frog into it, it will jump right out. But if you leave it in cold water and slowly turn the fire on, the frog is going to boil to death.

We are in a slow-boiling-frog situation. Everyone acts as if nothing is going wrong, while there is an upcoming explosion underneath all of us.

Either from the divisions, the herdsmen, IPOB (Indigenous Peoples of Biafra) or militants in the Niger Delta, something will break, because the capacity of the government to contain it in terms of revenue is shrinking.

Everyone is talking about corruption. That is a small part of the problem. It should not be a president’s focus. An independent agency can always deal with that. There is population time bomb in itself.

We are now seeing people committing suicide. I was driving and saw three people just lying on the street; no one cared. They were probably just giving up.

It is when they die and smell and become intolerable that someone will report that there is a dead body on the street somewhere, to go and pick it up.

We have people like that in our system. When you hear about an uprising, it is just one trigger away.

It happened in Tunisia; one guy set himself ablaze because he could not take it anymore; the thing, is, you could have an uprising like that, because it is spontaneous, it is not organised.

It happened suddenly, it doesn’t really lead anywhere. It is not structured. I think we have this last window in 2019 for a peaceful transformative transfer of power to solve our problems.

And that mandate is what I am trying to lead around a few things that I have identified and think the youths need to rely on.

The first thing I think is for the youths to try to assess and understand their own power in terms of numbers, come together on a unified platform or maybe around a unified candidate and then pursue specific objectives; you might call it manifesto and that has nothing to do with personalities.

We keep looking for a messiah, whether it is (Ahmadu Bello) Sardauna, (Obafemi) Awolowo or (Nnamdi) Azikiwe.

We are so focused on individuals rather than, like every other country -France, US- that have fine common principles that whoever is there must implement.

It is almost like a blueprint, the master plan, free education, whoever is there must do, like 43 per cent of the budget must go to education, things like that, invest in security.

It seems as if we are designed for failure because if you look at our problems and the root cause, it is almost mathematical that it is guaranteed to fail. You talk about the security problem; people don’t see how it affects commerce.

If you can’t go to your own village and invest, either because you think there are village witches or you say they don’t like you, who would invest there?

So, how do you expect foreign investors to come to Nigeria when they can’t even come and monitor their investment because they don’t feel safe? I am a Nigerian; I will like to invest in Zamfara or Borno. I don’t know what opportunities that are there because I can’t even go there.

We don’t know how fundamental security is to production and investment, yet we pay policemen less than N50,000 a month and we give them a gun.

I admire policemen. I think they do an amazing job. For you to have a gun and all they do is still beg for money on the streets is just self-respect.

It shows a lot of restraint on their part. It is madness that we let that kind of thing happen. In any other place that is the core thing.

I would say, for instance, if there is any serious government, you judge it from what they say about education and what they say about security.

You need to triple the pay of the policeman. It can be done; the money is there. It is about priority. You need to triple their number, of course, under a state police regime.

The fact that we don’t even have that is scandalous. I don’t know why there is even a debate about it.

The people who are going to bear the biggest brunt if the country implodes are the youths.

They are the youngest and the ones who are going to suffer for the longest period. At the same time, they have the biggest potential to transform the nation at this time.

Everyone says this is the time for the youths, but no one has ever tried to articulate how the youths should get involved and to what objective.

That is what I am trying to do. I think the youths are the one demographic, because of social media and things like that, that can actually bridge the faultlines that have allowed this kind of nonsense to thrive in Nigeria.

The masses are not united. They are split along ethnic and religious lines. It is ridiculous that what you call the Fulani herdsman has a common interest with an Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) agitator, but they will never realise it, because if this leads to a conflict, there is a meeting point for them.

Look at every economic index, the Fulani herdsman is at the bottom of the totem pole though a Fulani man is at the top as president and the irony of all that should not pass anyone.

Buhari becoming president of Nigeria is the worst thing that could have happened to the Fulani, because he has now raised old fears among a whole new generation of Nigerians that is now poured out against the Fulani.

The majority of Fulani people who are going to bear the brunt of that are not benefitting from the supposed power that the Fulani man apparently holds. This is the message that I am trying to get across to the youths.

They need to pay attention now more than any other time. If they don’t, in a few years, majority of us are either going to be dead, in refugee camps or living under warlords and area gangs.

There is currently an ongoing war in the country, whether people are reporting it or not, in the MiddleBelt and elsewhere.

The IPOB agitation is there people are not just going to stand back for the army to come and sort out all of that.

These are going to build up to some kind of conflict. But even if you take that out and you have a marginal change in government, all our problems are going to quadruple unless someone figures out a mass programme to solve them

Think of the masses of the youths in the north. The government needs to take ownership. These people are not going to save themselves.

Someone has to step in and say, “we take all of you and we will build you into industries, where there is training.” They have to adopt these numbers of youths, almost as if the government is now their parents, both for job training that has a value chain that is sustainable.

You would think that a Buhari, who has such a large following in the north, would have figured out how to create artisan industrial parks. We are 180 million people; we all need to eat, clothe and be sheltered that is commerce.

Just train them in mass areas of land that the government has until they acquire the skill and a certificate. Then they can go into the market themselves and become gainfully employed.

You need mass programmes like that, including free and qualitative education. There are no ‘ifs and buts’ about it. That is why I am concerned because the people who are going to suffer the most are the youths.

If they don’t pay attention now, there might not be a Nigeria in four years.

What informs your choice of party and agenda?

It is called the Youth Party of Nigeria (YPN), very recently registered party. I had no connection to them. I was just enamoured that a group of young people had taken the initiative to actually establish a party that did not have a godfather and was trying to have credible youths without godfathers to stand for elections.

I decided to work with this group to have the youths converge there. They have a very fantastic system, which obviously the time has come.

It is democracy through electronic system. You can go there and vote. You do your primaries like Big Brother Nigeria. If you look at their manifesto, it is well thought out. They have been at this for a long time.

Why do so-called young people run away from competition and choose to mushroom on platforms? Are you not worried about the idea of zoning certain posts to particular parts of the country?

It is a most wicked thing to do. You look at how this zoning thing works. Look at all the presidents we have had, they are perfect gentlemen, but you can’t say they are most dynamic personalities from their parts of the country.

Starting from Balewa, Shagari, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari. Even if you want to pick a northerner or Fulani man, will there be a consensus that those were their best candidates? Of course not! Any committee that wants to pick somebody is going to pick a pliable person because they want to have influence on them.

I have seen this up close. It has nothing to do with PDP or APC; it is just the way the system is, even when the Alliance for Democracy (AD) was supposed to pick its candidate in 1999. You would ask, why did they not pick a Bola Ige? Because he was too radical! They wanted a Falae because they felt, at least, he would listen.

People always want someone who listens to them and sometimes they are not the best. These are not people who can chart their own course. And when they get into government, a cabal imprisons them.

The system in a federation where you have to zone is designed to fail. Not that you can’t be inclusive, you have to because we are a diverse country.

The first thing is to make the centre not so attractive so that it does not become a life and death issue.

That is why power devolution is the first agenda to any salvation to this country. You have to devolve power to the states and the local governments so that there is greater accountability. This has nothing to do with revenue sharing.

You need to unleash the dynamism of the nation through devolution. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo likes to talk as if it is just good people we need in government.

My argument is, imagine if there are one thousand Osinbajos in every local government doing what he is doing at the federal level. That is what we need.

Nigeria is one place that looks like we are trying to grow a plant and we are watering it from the leaves, rather than from the roots.

It makes no sense. You have empowered the centre so much that everybody just feels that the centre is where he or she has to be.

The two things we need for development is education and reliable data. Have we had a reliable census to plan in this country? No! Why? Because it is subject to politics, particularly in the north and it affects everybody. People are self-motivated to doctor the census that you need for development.

This undermines you from actually producing the solution for people you are trying to save. The people in the north, despite all of these numbers of leaders that they have in the centre, are still where the needs are the greatest. Getting reliable data has been politicised for the worst reasons.

The only time you actually had someone do something close was in the old Western region when Awolowo actually got the number of children who needed to be in school and he planned things. You can see the result. Now, we only guess the number of children who are out of school.

I don’t understand this ‘Imperial Presidency’. Anyone who wants to greet the president almost bows. It goes down to the state level with governors as well. It is madness.

They are supposed to be servants and you are already feeding them with this imprimatur of all-knowing god and you expect them not to act like outlaws?

That is why you see the arrogance in government, even from the president. When last did the president hold a press conference?

People say things. He is not accountable. Three hundred Shiites were killed by his military, regardless of what their crime is. That is outrageous.

If those were 300 children from Ikoyi, do you think that will happen?

But he did not say a word about it! He did not even say the army was excessive. These are human lives. Everyone is saying the Shiites went overboard, but if you can do that to them, what protection do you and I have?

He did it with IPOB and we still carry on. I don’t know what is wrong with Nigerians. Is it a spell? If someone is that unaccountable, why do you think he won’t go to the next level of corruption of power? We are the ones feeding them; we are asking them to be corrupt as if they are all-knowing.

If you are going to disagree with IPOB or the Shiites, they are still Nigerians; you need to understand their grievances as the president. If they say it is a law and order issue, you address it as such. You don’t just mow them down as if they are some invading army.

These are your citizens. Yet, their representatives and all of us don’t hold him accountable. Is that the right way? We wonder when the next one will happen. Those are the kinds of issues that call for devolution of power so that the president is actually not that powerful.

In Africa, we have this problem with strongmen. There need to be more checks and balances on power, even more than anyone else.

You don’t sound as if you have been in politics for long…

I have a degree in philosophy from the University of Ife. That was the era when you had a lot of student activism. We were politically conscious about where the nation was going.

We were part of that generation when Babangida came and shutdown schools. That was where our political consciousness was formed. I had to go abroad.

Over there, I was always thinking about how things could be done right and how to provide similar solutions in Nigeria.

Over a period of time, I actually created the jobs and ideas to bring back to Nigeria, which focused on the core things I thought were the problem in Nigeria-security, power and education-and I came up with solutions for them.

I talked about my background to make you see how the evolution to the present effort in this political space came about.

In the course of coming back, I tried to work with the government to propagate education. It was an e-learning platform that uses solar power.

It was quite innovative and it was a tremendous experience. I just saw how the system is almost built to fail. It was a fantastic idea.

It had the support of the government, yet the procurement system itself just made the thing unworkable.

The idea was that maybe I could actually go into private enterprise and fund this as a Corporate Social Responsibility. At the same time, I observed the landscape that I left. I always score Nigeria before and after Abacha. The landscape had changed by the time I came back.

In our era, student union groups were advocates of good governance and they led people into taking action. Now you never hear anything happen they are compromised.

No one seems to talk about the values we all thought were fundamental-things like free education.

I don’t know how anyone, whether People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or All Progressives Congress (APC) or anyone out there who is going to transform this country without a mass, quality education programme.

The idea was focused on the concept that could bring quality education to the masses, using solar power. I think it was an interesting thing.

The plan was to get a classroom, put a few solar panels on the roof and project onto a television screen the best classes in the world.

Rather than trying to train every teacher (we know that there is deficiency in the quality of teachers) just get one fantastic teacher, the best in the world, say from Europe or America or wherever, standardise the training with good visuals that teaches every child in the appropriate subject.

That was what I brought to Nigeria. I had seen this done in one of the firms my company worked for. The total cost was going to be about $150million for the over 5500 secondary schools in Nigeria.

Each school will have a classroom and you have students rotated to receive the lectures. I travelled to Ogun State, Jigawa, and talked to the governors and even Osun State, where the Commissioner for Education asked me if it was not too advanced for the children.

The education commissioner in Jigawa, then a lady, later became the Minister of Education under President Goodluck Jonathan. Her explanation was that her government was trying to create infrastructure.

My own concept is that the resource is in the brain. We have to invest in human capital.

You can build as many bridges. You might put desks in classes, but if what is going into the brain is not quality, you are not going to give value to the society.

Because of the structure of our politics and our federation, we have largely designed failure into the system.

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