Nigeria@55: I’m worried, unhappy but optimistic – Osoba

Former Governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Segun Osoba, in this chat, shares his thoughts on the state of nation, where we missed the mark and the way forward.

In 1960, this nation had a promising future but along the line something happened, where will you say we missed it as a country?
Nigeria’s problems started when the leaders of the First Republic started going after one another. The issue of Foster-Sutton Tribunal against Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe over the African Continental Bank, ACB and other issues. Then the deliberate attempt to malign Chief Obafemi Awolowo through the Coker inquiry was the beginning of the instability of the country.

What do you think we’re doing wrongly today?
We’re repeating history, today politicians seem to be going for each other’s jugular. When I look back, I remember all that happened even up to the series of commissions of inquiry set up by the military after the 1966 coup. As a young reporter, I covered these inquiries. Nigeria has not yet learned any lesson, the corruption that we have been talking about since independence is still the monster that is destroying everything in Nigeria.

What is the immediate solution?
Corruption can never be wiped out in the world, there’s no where in the world that you’ll say corruption has been wiped out. Vladimir Putin in Russia has been fighting against corruption even our neighbour Ghana, they executed all the leaders believing that is the solution for Ghana but they are still battling with the problem today. The thing is that we can only contain or manage it but it can’t easily be wiped out.

How will you rate the current attempt at tackling corruption?
Rating is too early, it’s like when people get over-excited about 100 days. I always wonder, what is the meaning of 100 days? A man who’s going on a marathon race, you can’t assess him on the first 100 yard dash of the race, that is a pre-emptive judgement. You can’t assess a government within the first 100 days.

On the corruption, the President Buhari has made that a major and cardinal policy of his government. What I noticed is that his image and past record as a leader have had an effect. What I noticed now is that there is Sanitization of the system within the period that he came in. the system has been adjusting itself to work on its own to block some holes.

His body language is rubbing in on people, corrupt elements are beginning to fear that they needed to be careful. When he and late Brigadier General Babatunde Idiagbon started, War Against Indiscipline was the slogan and suddenly, Nigeria imbibed it and everywhere people did not just key-in, indiscipline became a national problem.

The assessment I can give is that reasonable sanitization of the system, discipline, the Treasury Single Account, if well managed will have tremendous effect but not to the point of denying the role of the banks in the management of the economic system.

Until the team of ministers are appointed, nobody should want to assess the long term impression of the government. What we have now is the manager, the coach, we haven’t assembled the team to be able to say this is the winning team. We have to assemble the totality of the team, then we can assess and put in some assumption of what we think of the team. We already have a good manager or captain but we need good players in Nigeria.

The President’s detractors say he’s waging the anti-graft war against his political opponents
Who are these political opponents or presumed political opponents? I only cautioned myself when I was in government not to get used to what I cannot afford when I’m out of government; not to misuse public funds; to spend public funds the way I’ll spend my own money.

This is my philosophy. Anybody that has been in government must be ready to answer questions after office on how he managed the affairs of the government. If you have been sincere then there’s no need to worry but one thing that is worrisome to me now is that we, the media are becoming a tool in the hands of the contending forces for political space in Nigeria. It is a saddening situation, the way we are going about our current situation.

It is often said that if you’re a governor for one day, there is no way your tenure will be looked into and something would not be found

Yes. There was a former president that used to give a Yoruba proverb that nobody is totally clean in the backside. That is Yoruba people’s belief that everybody’s backside smells. I agree but what I’m saying about the media is that we usually hear a story without investigation. We just blast it and make it look as capital offence immediately. We are being used to conduct trial of people on the pages on of newspapers. If an allegation is made against me, shouldn’t somebody find out my own side of the story? A lot of people that I know who had been touted as ministers, the way the media is portraying them is as if they’re all corrupt is bad. What evidence have we as media, of the allegation we are making about these characters? You say the Directorate of State Services, DSS, has reports. Fine! We as journalists owe a duty before we go to press to find out if the man we’re talking about has been called by the DSS, if they have given their own story to explain the allegations being made. We the media have killed investigative journalism, we have killed initiative, we just publish raw and this is disturbing. At the end of the day, what is our business without analysis, without any factual information? We just say somebody has been nominated, found by the security agencies to be corrupt, another person has been dropped. Many of these names are not even on the list of President Buhari’s prospective ministers. We have destroyed many to an extent by tainting their names and consequently their future. I must confess that as a journalist, I’ve been a victim and I’ve committed this kind of thing before.

It was the case of Professor Oritsejolomi Thomas, the then Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan. He was a trustee of Asaboro’s Estate. He was taken to court as a trustee over the estate and judgement was in the first instance given against the trustee, not against Oritsejolomi Thomas as a person.

Our correspondent in Akure, where the case took place, got compromised, the lawyer for the other side, about three months after, instigated him to write the story of a court judgement given three months earlier. It got to our desk, we thought it was a fresh story, we went ahead to use the story and that led to massive demonstration in the University of Ibadan and led to the removal of an innocent, decent, respected Nigerian – Oritsejolomi Thomas from the University of Ibadan as Vice Chancellor.

On the higher level, the case was over turned, the innocence of Oritsejolomi Thomas was established but he couldn’t be reinstated. By then we had fallen into the hands of a corrupt reporter to end the career of an amicable Nigerian in the calibre of Oritsejolomi Thomas. That’s why I say the way we’re conducting ourselves in the media is bad. Government must not rely on the headlines especially in this era of Internet journalism to destroy innocent Nigerians who perhaps have not had the chance to know the records that they have about them to react to those records whether they are right or wrong.

What are your thoughts about Nigeria at 55?
Trying times, but we shall survive. I have observed and seen Nigeria go through more terrible and worrisome things but we have survived.
Whatever level we may be, we will recover. Was there not a time when Harold Wilson had to devalue the Pound Sterling? Did the British not get to the level, are they not back? And the Pound now is a very strong currency. A nation will always survive, it is leadership.

I’m worried, bothered and unhappy but I’m optimistic.

You reacted to former President Obasanjo’s insinuation that Awolowo was appointed as Yoruba leader by his followers.
There has never been another Yoruba man of the calibre of Awolowo so far. Awolowo laboured very hard, right from the time he was a student in UK to bring the Yoruba together, he worked hard for it, he earned it, he was never accepted by the entire Yoruba. For a long time, he never won elections in the urban centres, Lagos, Abeokuta, Ilesha, Ibadan, all the urban centres. He was winning in the rural areas to offset the result of the urban centres.

Over time, the best election where he got the entire Yoruba behind him was in 1963. I was involved. In that presidential election, he had total, massive support of the Yoruba race behind him.

For the election of August 12, 1966; I was present there, the intention of that meeting was not to elect a leader, the intention was to unite all the forces within Yoruba land, it was the first time that Chief Mike Odu who was administrator in South West will be meeting Awolowo for the first time. Awolowo had just come out of prison. People like TOS Benson, Aderogun, it was their first time of sitting with Awolowo, it was a mere meeting of uniting Yoruba leaders and the man who organized it is still alive, that is why I still say that investigative journalism should be pursued vigorously. General Adeyinka Adebayo is still alive. I said Obasanjo was also involved as Garrison Commander in Ibadan then, I put all the facts before the whole world. It is not meant to be a war between me and Obasanjo, I just wanted to correct the fact that Awolowo was spontaneously and unanimously; the emphasis on spontaneity and unanimity- he was spontaneously and unanimously, without single dissent, adopted as the leader of the Yoruba. If anyone says otherwise, I will produce more records because the then Commissioner of Police, Emmanuel Olufunwa, one of the best police officers this country has ever produced, was the father of a classmate of mine and I was staying with him as a CP who was also a member of the cabinet of General Adebayo. So through him I knew a lot, I knew too much so if anyone puts his hand in my mouth, I’ll reveal more, more educative information.

I was very close to late Papa Emmanuel Olufunwa, he served in Oshogbo where my father lived, the son and I were classmates in Methodist Boys High School – Folarin Olufunwa. His family and my family were like one family. General Adebayo will confirm the character of CP Olufunwa.
Please note, I’m not a young man, I’m 76, people don’t know I know a lot about Nigerian history, a lot of situation in Nigeria.
That is why in South-West I’m a sad man. We are the only group who because we’re looking for offices in President Buhari’s government, are resorting to what Yoruba people say; “If you can catch him kill him; if you cannot get to kill him, demobilise him.”

We are at each other’s jugular raising irrelevances about ourselves, destroying ourselves before President Buhari. Have you heard such about other people in other parts of the country? It is unfortunate, we should go back to Ogunde’s “Yoruba ronu” let’s put our thinking caps on. Enough of self destruction.