NIGERIA, NOTHING HAS CHANGED AFTER 63 YEARS – NO LIGHT, NO WATER, NO GOOD ROADS, NO RELIABLE TELEPHONE NETWORK AND NO MANUFACTURING COMPANIES/INFRASTRUCTURE.
Mr Tony Oyatedor, a veteran journalist and president of Newstimes, speaks with BOLA BADMUS on issues of national interest among others.
As someone who has been abreast of happenings in Nigeria, how can you describe the current state of the country?
Unfortunately, every year Nigeria retrogresses. This is the only country in the entire world where, despite having budgets every year, we still witness no improvement, but keep going backwards. No light. No good roads. Even when you make calls, the network fluctuates, yet the operators of the networks are making billions of naira, while the citizens are not enjoying the telephone service.
So, on the state of the country we have today in 2022, if I say we are 10 years backwards, I am being nice because we are between 30 to 40 years backwards. You can see how bad the roads are. But this same place that we are today was superb 40 years ago. I left this same area [Festac Town, Lagos] 31 years ago. But as I came now, see how it is. I mean the word cannot even come out of my mouth. And it is exactly the same with the state of the country.
But the only way we can carry ourselves forward from where we are today is not just by complaining. It is about seeking good Nigerians from all over the world to come, roll up their sleeves and work to bring this country to where it was decades ago. It is not about prayers and fasting alone.
As we move into 2023, what kind of leaders should Nigerians vote into office to move the country forward?
My book on leadership was written in 1995 and it appraises Nigeria. The problems and the solutions are right there. But Nigerians are the only people in the world that don’t like to read. Nigerians must retrace their steps, including the youths because they are the future of the country. But are the youths showing love to one another? Instead, all you see is kidnapping, killings, cultism and armed robberies. So, when you ask what the youth should do, I will say they must stop killing and kidnapping Nigerians.
The leaders also must be ready to roll up their sleeves and work. They must not be people who just go to the office to enjoy the office alone. Every leader, even a local government chairman, must be ready to work. And by work, I mean you must do what you are supposed to do for the benefit of your people.
I also have a piece of advice for all Nigerians and it is that they should love one another. For example, in the entire embassies of the United States across the world, when you are a USA citizen or a green card holder, there is a door and all you do is just to walk in. When you arrive the USA, there is also a sign indicating ‘USA citizens and passport holders this way.’ But Nigeria is the only country in the world in which citizens hate themselves. Right at the airport, no welcoming signs for Nigeria’s citizens, they queue up and are treated anyhow. It is the same when you go to Nigeria’s embassies all over the world, including Washington DC. It is the worst treatment you will ever receive like we are at war with each other. This is wrong.
People don’t want to come to Nigeria. When I tell people I am going to Nigeria, they will ask me, ‘what are you going there to do? Are you not scared? They will kidnap and kill you.’ I tell them it is my country, and somebody has to do it. I am not going to refuse the call of God. So, change the situation, Nigerian leaders must be able to take off their curve links, unbutton and roll their sleeves and work for the people. That is the only way the country will move forward.
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, Nigerians from diverse background have been clamouring for zoning of the presidency. Some are saying it is the turn of the South to produce the next president, while the North are insisting on retaining power. What is your take on this?
Regarding zoning of the presidency, if I answer it one way, I will offend some people and if I answer it the other way, I will also offend some other people. But we are not in the offending business, but in the solution business. So, I am going to be in the middle.
In the USA where I returned from, you will be fascinated to know that there is a zoning system. You would have thought that only Nigeria has a zoning system, but it is also in the USA. The presidency can only come from a particular area at a time and from one particular arm of leadership, but it is not explained to the general public, only those of us who are studious know about it.
In Nigeria, you can zone all you want, but you may likely not get result if you just zone power for zoning sake. If the next president can be zoned to the North, can they produce a competent person who will work for the good of all Nigerians and not just enjoy the office alone? When we zone the presidency in the USA, any president that comes in is for the United States. Joe Biden is from Delaware, but 99 per cent of his entire staff are not from Delaware.
And then, you cannot say you are a president from Bayelsa and then jam the whole office with staff from Bayelsa or you are a president from Katsina and everybody surrounding you is from Katsina or you are from Ogun State and then you surround yourself with Yoruba people. You are not a president of Ogun State; you are a president of Nigeria. So, when zoning, bring somebody from the zone who is competent and will go there to work for the good of all Nigerians regardless of ethnicity. So, let our zoning be based on competence and education.
What in your opinion are factors responsible for terrorism, kidnapping and insecurity generally in the country and what is the way out?
We have travelled all over the world and people ask what does Boko Haram mean? It means Western education is bad in this context. The youths in the North that started this slogan that Western education is bad did not start it all of a sudden; it was based on a concept.
In the recent past, when they visited their tribesmen who were in offices in Abuja, security people would not allow them access the place, whereas the same youths were told by their parents that in the past, their representatives and senators did welcome them with open arms and give them money, gifts, which made them return to the North happily.
But some of these youths have gone abroad and returned with Western traditions in which, if you live in an apartment, your neighbour will not have anything to do with you. That was the lifestyle they brought to Nigeria. Therein lies the genesis of Boko Haram. So the way forward is to provide food and jobs, because you cannot buy weapons from foreign countries to kill your children who say they are hungry.
By their mere utterance, you would have found out that they were hungry and angry. So all you need to do is to feed them and apologise to them, then the crisis will subside. But if you keep buying weapons to crush your children, who are ranting because of hunger and anger, their social vices will escalate.
So the leaders should try and change course: humble yourselves; tell the youths of Nigeria that you are sorry, that you have misled them for decades and you will do much better in the future. They will lay down their arms and embrace peace.
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