By Chris Onuoha
Dr Olapade Agoro was a presidential contender under the National Action Council (NAC) in the 2019 elections. A social critic, Agoro speaks on the state of the nation.
You wanted to be President of Nigeria at some point. What happened and what is the situation now?
I have always believed that leadership is something that is in-built, and I have always had leadership qualities in me. Seeing beyond the ordinary has been part of me. In the United States, when Barrack Obama was chosen, he is a black man for the first time in the history of the world to be given the opportunity to lead the biggest nation on earth and he did not fail because, right from the word go, he had leadership qualities in him. Leadership is what calls you out to lead, just like Jesus Christ or Mohammad. As young as the age of 20, I have always seen things differently from other people’s perspectives. At 25, I graduated. At a time nobody could have given me the opportunity, I left my bench and, today, I have occupied various leadership positions in history. I did the first international oil conference in entire black Africa in 1990 where I had the British and other parts of the world coming to see what I was doing in Abuja, and it was very successful. I originated the idea of ‘Road Safety’ and sold it to the Federal Government but the original idea was not implemented. I did the first international book fair in Lagos around 90s. I was the first Nigerian to propose how to tackle corruption and I communicated the idea to then Interim Head of State Ernest Shonekan but I couldn’t fathom what came out of it. These were my reasons and drive to be President.
In other climes, people should be begging someone like you to lead.
You made a very cogent point. But the question is, is Nigeria ready for somebody who will lead them righteously, and truthfully? They don’t want to listen to the truth. I am a religious leader, an elder and an Oba in my town and also the leader of all the Aladuras. The question is, who is ready to listen? They want things to keep going the way it is.
The “Revolutionnow” protest turned out to be a non-event. What is your assessment of the intention of the organisers and government’s response?
Omoyele Sowore is a positive young man but the type of revolution he is calling for is wrong. What type of revolution was he talking about? Does he have the wherewithal? He contested the election and he did not mention revolution. If I were him, I would have sold that idea of revolution from the word go and not after losing the election. Then he went on talking; ‘that he does not want this President…’ That is not the way to do revolution. It must not be about one man. It must be an idea. It must be a concept. It is not just something you wake up one day and say there must be a revolution. Which revolution now? The man who led the revolution in Cuba did not start this kind of ‘Revolutionnow.’ He did it against the greatest political power in the world, the US. He had the people, he had the money and he had the dream and vision that he pursued. Sowore did not have followership on that concept. If he had been instructed by God to lead a revolution, a lot of people would have followed him. He wanted to draw attention to himself, which he has achieved. How far that can carry him, I may not know. If he is not careful, that can lead him to a destination of beyond.
Some people said we are not ripe for such a protest because of deep ethnic division in the system. Do you agree?
If you are talking about revolution, you can have it in the area of education, agriculture and even the health sector. Dr Akinwunmi Adeshina was appointed Agriculture Minister by the Obasanjo regime and he became the best we ever had. To me, that is a revolution. In journalism ‘Sad Sam’ stood his ground against all odds and revolutionized the idea of publishing and, today, Vanguard has remained a newspaper to reckon with. We have Ngozi Okonjo Iweala who came with a fantastic financial blueprint during Obasanjo regime. At that time, the administration paid almost all our debts. When you talk of revolution, you may have a revolution of idea and it does not have to be bloody. In Nigeria, we had the first revolution in 1966 when the young military officers came with an idea but, unfortunately, they were cut down. They made it one-sided and could not succeed. Anybody can have a revolution but it must not be bloody. To be followed, you must show who you are.
Knocks and kudos greeted the ministerial list after it was submitted to the Senate. Some people felt the list fell below expectation. What do you think?
You can only the get the taste of the pudding from what you put into the pudding. When Buhari made a noise that he was going to bring the best of technocrats in his government, what did we see, people that have been tested one way or the other? There are so many unknown names in this country; names without noise, untested, but with quality. The ministerial list should not have been based on party patronage or who you know. I still could not find the technocrats. Where are they? The people on that list; about 90 per cent of them have been tested. He should look beyond who he knows and use the real Nigerian technocrats that will work.
The thinking in some quarters is that the list should have come with portfolios. What is your perspective?
Every leader has his own style. Maybe for Buhari, there were certain things that made him do that, that we don’t know.
How do you rate the screening of the ministerial nominees by the Senate, especially the ‘bow and go’ episode?
As I was saying, he who pays the piper dictates the tune. The way the ministers were selected was contrary to what Buhari told us and contrary to our expectation of something very fantastic coming from him. But then, I don’t know what all that the Senate would have done against the wish of Mr President. Many of those selected know themselves, so why bother the nation with something we all know. What do you want them to tell us that is different from what we already know? If he had selected people unknown to politics, then we would have liked to know more about them, but from their antecedents, we already know them.
Speculations are rife that some of the returning ministers may go back to their former ministries. If you are in Buhari’s shoes what will you do?
I have been involved in the system for so long and if opportune, I would have done things differently. My ministerial list would have been out a week before I assumed duty. We were looking for the ministerial nominees without knowing that the list is all about those who were there all along. We have many young men and women untested. If I am in Buhari’s shoes, I would have done it differently. We have a lot of men like Akinwunmi waiting to be tested. But can they be ever discovered in this system that recognises only people in their caucus? Look at what happened to Babatunde Fashola, such a brilliant man. He was saddled with three-in-one portfolios, just one man. How could you give three key ministries to one man when we have lots of people who are qualified to do the job? I wouldn’t have done that. That is a type of thing we do wrongly.
What is your take on the state of the nation especially against the backdrop of the claim by the government that it is doing its best to fix the economy and tackle insecurity?
The insecurity that we are battling with is engineered by us. There is nothing really wrong in Nigeria that we cannot manage, but we saw it and we were careless about it. Did we not see the Boko Haram coming? How did we manage it? We know the mother and grandmother of insecurity and did not nip it in the bud. We have been paying terrorists, kidnappers and bandits in this country. The kidnappers of the Chibok girls were paid.
On RUGA and state police?
RUGA is political noise. We believe in making noise. I don’t believe we should follow the tradition of our forefathers. Also, I don’t believe in anybody living in the bush with cows. Human beings and cows are not the same. The problem here is that we don’t have people that study the problems before they proffer solutions. We have had it long time in this country, even in Ibadan. What is wrong with the old system of rearing cattle? If I am Mr President, I would have imported hornless cows to fill all the ranches because they look robust and healthy. My father used to have them. I don’t see the reason why I can’t start a cattle rearing at my backyard. RUGA doesn’t make sense. Agriculture is for everybody and must not be restricted traditionally to some people.
Can we talk about state police without knowing what is on the ground? Who will be the head of state police? We always talk to the wind in the direction the wind blows. What are the modalities for state police, has it been described? Will state police be in control of state governors? If anyone should mention the American system, it is not the same as Nigeria. They have set out modalities and their system is working. If a state governor appoints a state police chief, what happens if he is not there? These are the questions we need to answer before we talk about having state police.
Perhaps, you can summarize your view on the anti-corruption crusade by the Buhari administration.
Nigerians are corrupt and it has become part of our life. We have to go inside ourselves and find out what is wrong. I believe in developmental ideology than an evolving ideology. Buhari has not shown me that he is capable of fighting corruption. If it could take him that long to release the ministerial list, then how can he fight corruption? If he had waited until people coerced him to release the names, it is an element of corruption.
What will be your frank advice for Buhari on fixing Nigeria?
I don’t believe that we should divide this country. Nigeria was designed by God to be the greatest nation in this world, but it is our inability to manage that is our problem. I believe that we should come together and speak the truth. Those who are feeding fat on the marrows of this country are the ones seeking to divide the country. In the Taraba Police-Army exchange, three police officers were killed by soldiers and the kidnap suspect escaped. As a nation, we must tell the truth at all times. If I see you spending more than your income, I should ask you questions. We all know the corrupt ones but everyone is keeping sealed lips. Our electoral system is corrupt and contestants spend billions without anybody asking questions. Buhari should be honest and look inwards to tackle all these with the zeal of a President.