By Ola Ajayi, Ibadan
Dr. Kunle Olajide was Secretary General of Yoruba Council of Elders and one of the South West representatives at the defunct National Conference. His political experience dates back to the era proceeding the 1966 coups. As a member of Afenifere, he justifies the endorsement of President Goodluck Jonathan for re-election by the Yoruba group. He also warns Nigerians to tread softly on the presidential candidate they vote for. Enjoy him.
I was Secretary of Action Group Students’ Union of the University of Ibadan before the coup and I was one of the students who went to demonstrate in January 1966 against the Prime Minister Commonwealth Conference that was scheduled to hold in Lagos when the Western Region was still burning.
We were arrested and detained in Iyaganku before we were released. So, I think I have a fair share knowledge of virtually everything that is going on because I am a good bridge between the present and the past. This is why I believe that some of us who were privileged to be part of this process since the colonial days and the first republic should come out and say boldly what we perceive are the major problems of Nigeria.
It is unfortunate that in the last 16 years, the conspiracy between the political elite of both sides of the divide has impoverished Nigerians and dehumanized them to the extent that most Nigerians cannot even think straight now. They think of the moment without thinking of the future. I don’t intend to dwell on the past, but we must draw lessons from the past to guide our future.
2015 general elections are around the corner. The two main presidential candidates are President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd). As an elder statesman, which of them would you prefer to govern this country?
It is not a question I would answer straight. There are four major critical issues in the presidential election. They include insecurity. Under this, you look at insurgency, kidnapping, robbery. Two, economy. Under this, you look at the power generation, employment generation, industrialization, infrastructural development and so on. Three, corruption. Four, I appeal to our people to have non-violent election. These are the issues that should determine which of the two candidates should be elected.
Let us start with insecurity. I am particularly embarrassed when I hear General Buhari saying within two to three months, he would stop insurgency and banish Boko Haram. I feel particularly sad because I would imagine that Buhari as a nationalist of his stature, if he has the solution to Boko Haram in three months, he should not have allowed us to waste millions of Naira fighting this evil. It does not speak well of him to have the clue but keeps it away just because he wants to use it as an election material. I don’t score him high on that.
He would have told us just like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo told the people. Don’t forget, he was one of the negotiators nominated to discuss with Boko Haram. So, some of us feel uncomfortable that he could be privy to the escalation of this insurgency.
Then, kidnapping, armed robbery and corruption are all products of the bad system of government that we are running and this is why some of us feel that the structure of government is unsustainable and there is no way anybody can run like that and get results. On the economy, any country that spends 75 per cent of its revenue on recurrent expenditure cannot make progress. The population of the country is about 170 million and you have five million taking away 75 per cent of the revenue.
The structure of the country supports corruption because you have to compromise no matter how principled you are. So, you can’t see the eradication of corruption from the perspective of one person. Some of us believe that fundamental restructuring of this country is paramount before we can make headway. So, it is not a matter of looking at the two candidates. The foundation is faulty. Every Nigerian first thinks of where he comes from: Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Efik and the rest. We need a system that can wedge all the ethnics together without anyone losing its identity.
Are you not worried about how the polity is unduly being heated up by politicians?
I am worried. Card-carrying politicians are not up to five percent of the population and they should not expect to hold 95 per cent of us into bondage; we need to speak out. I am not talking to you as a member of any political party. If you look at all the political parties, there is no ideology. Their manifestoes are the same. We look at the background of the man who wants to lead us, his antecedents, where he comes from and the likely influence his people who surround him are likely to wield upon him.
These are the issues we have to consider. Then the power sector. The best way to free Nigerians from those hawks who feed fat on us is to privatize power generation and President Goodluck Jonathan has done that. Former President Obasanjo only mouthed privatization. So, if we want to have a giant leap in industrialization, generation of employment, we must solve the problem of the power generation and we have just begun the process.
I would tell my people to vote for somebody who is going to look into the over 600 recommendations of the National Conference. I worked day and night as a South West delegate to brainstorm and put things together. But, human memory is short. Before the convocation of the National Conference, there was a particular group who opposed it, preferring the status quo which everybody knows is unsustainable. How can you expect someone who opposed the conference to come round now and implement the recommendations. We had running battles with the northern group at the confab; it was divine intervention that led us to where we ended. At every critical juncture, efforts were made to frustrate the conference, but we remained resolute. You now think anybody who belongs to that group will now come and change the status quo. This is our worry.
Some people think we may be tilting towards the prediction that Nigeria is going to disintegrate in 2015. Do you share that sentiment?
No. I don’t see that there is any problem we cannot put on the table and resolve. We had a rancorous National Conference. Yet, I do not see disintegration as the solution to our problem. All we need to do is to ensure that no nationality loses its identity.
You listed some factors to be addressed which include insecurity, corruption, and the economy. For having been in the saddle for six years now, many people feel President Jonathan cannot solve our problem. Meanwhile, Afenifere endorsed him for another four years. As a Yoruba elder, how do you assess that position?
I am a member of Afenifere too. People feel somehow about the comments because Afenifere did not give the reason. You know for the mere fact that President Jonathan allowed the National Conference to hold and promised to implement the recommendations within twelve months, it was on that plank that Afenifere supported him and it is on that plank I am recommending him and endorsing his candidature. Recently, the southern people endorsed him because this structure and system of government dehumanizes Nigerians.
So, some of us believe that the process(National Conference) he started, he stands a good chance of implementing it than someone who stood vehemently against its convocation.