By Bashir Adefaka
Otunba Lateef Owoyemi, the Otunba Jadiara of Ijebuland and former president, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN, has served in many capacities and contributed to the economic development of Nigeria.
An astute management consultant, his firm, LOP Consulting Ltd, has remained an active player in nation-building in the last 34 years.
The 73-year-old, who was a good companion of late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, spoke to Saturday Vanguard on issues arising from President Jonathan’s last presidential media chat, linking the whole parasite eating deep into various spheres of Nigerian public life to corruption. Excerpts:
President Goodluck Jonathan among many other things had scored himself high in fight against corruption, provision of stable power supply and road infrastructures across Nigeria; during the last presidential media chat. With what eyes do you look at those issues he raised?
First and foremost let me start my response on the issue of corruption. What I can say is that Jonathan is doing the best he can but it will take all Nigerians to fight this thing called corruption. When you have elections based on moneybag consideration, the guilt of corruption comes in through the electoral process.
The lawmakers are guilty of corruption; the judges are guilty of corruption and, going by this way of life, there is no how you will not have cases of kidnapping and assassination. Young boys, now in Nigeria, are no longer interested in working but in business of kidnapping.
In Ijebu-Ode here, they took somebody away and demanded for ransom to release him! You see? It is not a one-man fight against corruption because it is at every level of Nigerian society.
And you can take it back to the Murtala purge when he just removed a lot of civil servants who were hard working and honest! Those who survived the purge moved around to say that, “We must now make arrangement to secure our future!” They are the ones teaching the politicians how to steal.
Every Permanent Secretary is a wealthy billionaire and many of them are now going to Senate? Where are they getting the money from? The owners of land and largest number of buildings in Nigeria are civil servants.
And you now have what I can call fake due process! Where you say there should be three quotations, the permanent secretary would go and allocate contracts to themselves.
The other issue raised in the media chat was subsidy removal. Mr. President said total removal of subsidy was inevitable to ensure establishment of refineries locally.
But now, considering the fact that when the four refineries were working in full capacity in the past, subsidy was in place and things worked well, one is forced to want to ask:
Why do you think it is only by removing subsidy that things can get better talking about the oil and gas in this country?
The whole thing is interlinked. If the refineries are not working well, there is no way we are not going to have escalated cost. The refineries will not work well because those who should make them work well will not make them work well because of corruption! They are making money from all these subsidy things.
It is up to Nigerians themselves to expose those civil servants who are enriching themselves from this thing, who therefore are living beyond their earnings and as a result of that will never want it to work well! Go to any ministry, there is a lot of corruption in it. So is any of the armed forces; so any sector of Nigerian public or private life, there is a lot of corruption inside it.
Tell me, which Federal Government department or agency is not corrupt? Which state of the federation is not corrupt? Which bank is not corrupt? Which segment of the private sector is not corrupt?! And this is caused by the civil servants as a result of the destruction that the hitherto quality based and patriotic civil service suffered in the hands of General Murtala.
They destroyed the civil service by uprooting those civil servants who were good and allowed the bad, corrupt ones to stay on and anyone who opposed them they removed him. But now, without a proper civil service, no government can do much. Jonathan is therefore just an unfortunate scapegoat.
His job is one that is beyond any ordinary Nigerian. You need a radical Muslim or pastor, since they all claim one religion or the other, in the presidency who will be in the seat of power, thoroughly guided by the Constitution to put this country straight. And by radical I mean who does not want money; all he wants is just to make heaven by doing the right thing for the good of the people and with the fear of God.
The role of civil servants in the decadence that our public life has witnessed is enormous and the only way out of it is to, first and foremost, take the time to embark on thorough civil service reforms without listening to influence from any quarters.
There have been a lot of white paper reports in this country that are either missing or not brought up for implementation. Whose fault do you think it is? Not that of the minister or the president but it is squarely the fault of the civil servants.
They are the ones. What about the 12.5 billion dollars under General Ibrahim Babangida regime? A file can always disappear and once that happens, you are stuck.
What should be done to tackle the issue?
So, no matter what probe panel you set up, the civil servants must still carry the file and work upon its report. If the file disappears, what would you do? Until we get the civil service right, we cannot get anything right in this country.
The civil service is so corrupt. All of them are looking for money and they are not interested in working. Let’s face the truth. Many people in the civil service are only looking for how to get money by awarding contracts to themselves and they are the richest Nigerians now followed by politicians. That’s the truth.
It all started from the regime of Murtala Mohammed who punished those he should not have punished and destroyed those things he should not have destroyed and now nobody regrets the errors of the past.
That was where and how corruption started. Murtala started corruption. I was a civil servant myself; he was the foundation of all this corruption we now have which has eaten deep into all spheres of our public life in Nigeria. It’s the civil servants now that thought the corporate officers how to also make money and anybody who has been chief executive of any company in Nigeria, if quoted, turns to being a mult-millionaire acquiring most of the houses from that company whether by shares or whatever.
If you appoint somebody managing director of a bank, he becomes the owner of the bank before you know.
But I bet you, let them probe any ministry; health, works, any and Nigerians would be surprised what they will find there. every ministry is corrupt.
Is it the same parasite that has eaten into why the road system in Nigeria has never worked for quite sometime?
On roads, I just feel that our authorities have been extremely insensitive. We’ve had this Lagos-Ibadan ut to Abuja road project for a very long time now.
What presently obtains on that road is not found anywhere in the world. Even if that is the only thing you do in one year, we can say oh, we now have a 10-lane road from Abuja to Lagos and everybody will be happy about it.
That this thing is not working the way it should is all corruption! They awarded the contract (call it concession) and now they have sacked the company without a negotiation. I mean how can that happen?
How can you award a contract and the man has started the job and now you just come up to say you are sacking him from the job without quantifying and properly assessing what is on ground. Is that how to do things?
But now that the deed has been done, do you see Bi-Cotony as responsible for the lack of performance that has been recorded on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway side?
I don’t have the facts about Bi-Cotony activities. I don’t know what it has been up to but they understand themselves. I know that there must be a contract in place; I know government must have breached that contract to abrogate that concession and I know the company will go to court.
But I think the government should just count the cost of the damages as part of the cost of getting that place to work. Anybody that makes that road work is doing a good job, no matter what. Even if it means cancelling a contract or abrogating a contract to get that road fixed, I will be happy about it.
But let them fix a permanent feature not just something temporary whereby in another two, three years, we will begin to start re-awarding same contract again. No, things are not done like that!
This road has been with us for decades since General Yakubu Gowon’s time. I don’t understand what is wrong with us in this country. What is wrong with being able to build that Ijebu Ode-Ore Road and Lagos-Abuja Road in one year? Even if it is only road and power you can do in one year, we will all be happy about it.
It is unfortunate. Those who can run the government should run the government well and those who can’t run it have no business to be there! With the level of unemployment that we now have at hand, this country is threatened.
The way we are going, I just hope Almighty God will save us because Nigeria as it is presently is a sorry case. The country is too sick because I don’t see how someone can contest election in this country spending so much money and will not make the money back. In the other hand, the military won’t be able to do anything. They created the problem, to start with.