Elder statesman and leader of Afenifere, nonagenarian Chief Reuben Fasoranti, told Oluwaseun Akingboye in this interview that Nigeria’s democracy is in crisis. Excerpts:
Your assessment of democracy in Nigeria
Things have gone haywire, the Federal Government and the nation don’t seem to have any sense of direction. There is no discipline in the country. There is corruption all over the place and nothing is being done about it seriously. The economy is bad and getting worse, with policies that are impoverishing the people without any hope in sight. We are disappointed.
There have been postulations that the problems facing the nation are fundamental problems. Are they in any way related to the agitation for restructuring?
Not exactly, what we are saying about restructuring is that each region should be able to cater for itself. Each should have its own police; manage its own affairs. For instance, in Ondo State, we have ports; we should be able to control what comes in through the ports. Why should we wait till the Federal Government says something? The idea is that we should be able to manage our own internal affairs, which is what we refer to as restructuring.That was what we had when the British people were here. At independence, things were so good, but now things have gone bad. They unified it; the military unified the government.
In 1999 and 2015, Afenifere adopted some presidential candidates; do you think Nigeria would have been better if those candidates had won the elections?
Definitely, there would have been a different nation; they would have fought corruption to a standstill. At the moment, President Muhammadu Buhari is neither here nor there. There are so many corrupt people in his government, and he seems to have connived with them and this is not good enough for the image of the country. We expected him to be forthright, but he has some favourites. What we have now are some sacred cows within the president’s cabinet, which is very annoying. I don’t want to mention names.
Are you faulting the anti-corruption fight of the Federal Government?
It is not good enough, he is fighting it with kid gloves. There have been many corrupt people within his cabinet since he was elected.
Recently both Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and former President Olusegun Obasanjo visited you and the leadership of Afenifere. Is there a new direction?
We are very friendly; we didn’t discuss anything, just courtesy visits, very friendly. And we seem to share the same idea about this country; they were just courtesy visits.
But last December, you accused Obasanjo of betraying Afenifere during the 2003 elections
He referred to it himself when he came here that he didn’t support us in the past. But I think he seems to have a change of attitude and our minds are working together now. We didn’t support him in his first attempt; it was only his people who voted for him because we didn’t like his style that made him to be on the other side of the coin.
There are speculations that opposition parties might form a merger to displace the APC government in 2019. How feasible is this?
That is our dream. That is our determination. The government in Abuja is very defective and corrupt. We cannot go on like this. They have no respect for us, they think we are just hobnobbing; and so, our minds are working together. It is possible we come together.
But the same dream of the opposition in 2015 brought the present government?
We shall try to prevent it; we seem to have the same patriotic mind now that corruption should be eradicated from this country totally and we are not looking back. It is obvious and all over the place. People in government who have been sacked, who have been sent away, are taken back. I don’t want to mention names, as everybody knows this.
What are you then looking for in a candidate to actualise the dream?
He should be bold, very audacious and patriotic. He must be above board and if we get all these from his past records and we know he will not look back; we will go for him. These are what we have in mind. People are fed up with the incumbent government.
What about all these youth agitations?
I don’t think the time is ripe for them; they should wait for their time. The youths should still be under the tutelage of experienced politicians to learn more. We can’t leave the whole thing to the youths: youthful exuberance, inexperience and the onus of leadership might weigh down their good intentions. I think they should have some time; I think they can wait. The saddle of government will someday rest on their shoulders, and soon, but they must be well prepared for the task.I hope reason will rule, reason will rule. I agree with you that if the opposition parties and interests do not unite for a common purpose, it might be to the advantage of the ruling party; but reason will rule when the time comes during the time for campaign and explanation.
As an associate and follower of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, do you think the prophecies of the sage are in tandem with the Nigerian situation?
He said he saw a dark cloud, and the dark cloud is still there, nothing has changed. Honesty, integrity, hard work, sense of direction, all these have not taken place at all. That is why we are aggrieved.
Could that mean the labour of the founding fathers is wasted?
It appears their labour has been wasted. The dreams have been shattered and I hope that things will change. People don’t want to work; people are looking for money, quick money without working. Dishonesty is being extolled, even the youths themselves, they have different plans. How many of them are honest? That is the problem. They want to get it quick, it doesn’t matter how: some of them are ‘Yahoo-yahoo,’ and more.
We have given a lot of our time. When I was Commissioner for Finance in this state, I was living in that house (pointed to a bungalow outside), the one adjacent to this one. I was offered government quarters, which I refused. I was using my personal car, and that was the extent to which we imbibed discipline from Chief Awolowo. We imbibed honesty and hard work and we showed leadership by example.
Are you attributing the failure of the society to the absence of such mentorship?
The absence of good leadership; of a leader that has good charisma, a leader that shows the example of hard work and honesty is not good for any country. the leader must be somebody that has honesty as his watchword; not one that runs after money. Baba Ajasin built his house when he was the principal of a school, and that was where he was living, even as governor. When the coup took place in December 1983, he had no personal car. I took him in my own personal car from here to Owo.
And when he said I should come and pick him, I went there, collected his clothes and belongings, put them in a sheet and wrapped them together. I put them at the back of my car. He came into governance with two cars but had none when he was leaving. The cars were wrecked and he didn’t buy any car. I took him in my own personal car to Owo before we were all detained. He was a disciplined person, in fact, some people blamed him for not amassing wealth; but he didn’t care. He didn’t buy any new cloth. I remember he had a set of white brocade, which he was wearing; and these were the clothes he wore throughout the four years. That is the type of leader we are hoping to have. He fashioned his own life after Baba Awolowo’s; they were friends. Honesty and hard work were their watchwords, and these are the qualities and virtues this generation lacks.
Could it be as a result of lack of functional education?
In fact, we are lamenting that now, no discipline. In the afternoon, when the children are out of school, you need to see them at the gate of Fiwasaye Girls Grammar School there. They are like locusts, moving like locusts. And my fear is that it is a time bomb because they are not going to be there for life; when they finish, they look for work. Education should be restructured so that we have children who are employable when they finish. Technical education should be emphasised and civics should be taught in schools with practicability for the young ones. That is not happening. Government should do something like that; otherwise, it is a time bomb that will explode anytime.
But many of the governors, especially in the Southwest, are taking anti-free education stances, what’s your reaction to this?
It is the duty of government anywhere in the world to make education affordable for the people because not everybody has the money, and there are some hidden talents among the poor people. Government should afford them the opportunity of getting education. In my school, I give some few people free education because they are talented. Not that I have the money, but I took it upon myself as a responsibility not to allow their talents to waste. One or two of them are leaving the school this year and they will get admission to tertiary institutions.
Many of those governors have forgotten so quickly; I know some of the governors who benefitted from the free education offered by the government then. That should fire them to give same opportunities to hidden talents because some of the talents are wasted just for not having the opportunity to have education.
What is your advice to leaders in the country?
They should look back, assess the situation, adjust wherever necessary and chart a way forward. As a nation, we have not started at all. When we read of great nations like America, China etc, education is given utmost priority and made available for all; that is when we tap talent, take good care of people who have the talent to be saved from perdition. I know of some of my colleagues who had talents then but had no opportunity of going to school. When you look at them now, you will pity them: they are wretched. Education is really the bedrock and catalyst for national development everywhere in the world.
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