29 May 2009

Nigeria: There is No Democracy to Celebrate - Adedibu


Kamorudeen Adekunle Adedibu is a Senator and son of late strongman of Ibadan politics, Lamidi Adedibu. In this interview with Correspondent, Otei Oham, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmaker, who is Chairman, Senate Committee on Industries, contended that the country is enmeshed in myriad of problems that require honest appraisal. He blamed the political elite for being dishonest and parochial in their approach to governance. In fact, he argued that despite the almost 49 years of independence and 10 years of uninterrupted civilian administration the nation has nothing to celebrate.

Do you think this year's Democracy day celebration is necessary?

The essence of celebrating democracy is when an administration has given back to the people that have put you in the office. You must meet their expectations, which include freedom of speech, access to free and qualitative education, electricity, sound health care delivery and provision of social infrastructure. The people should have all these basic amenities, but we don't have them. Until we can get all that for our people, then, there is no Democracy Day. The people, not the government, should celebrate democracy. The dividends of democracy are what the people should be celebrating. They should celebrate, when they have electricity, when they have adequate water, when they have free education and when they can provide food for their families. That is democracy. Otherwise, all those things we think we have gained, we are going to lose. How far are we? Ten years after, we still can't provide electricity for our people, an average family that used to feed with N2,000 to N3,000 cannot do it anymore. Ten years after, inflation is higher than it had ever been and our economy is on a downward trend. Ten years after, our industries are relocating to other countries. To me, this is no democracy. To me, we should be celebrating democracy by providing all these necessities to our people. It is only when we can do that that we can be jubilant and celebrate democracy. Presently, when you gather everybody together and look at their faces you see that they are hungry. Ask them if what we have presently is democracy? If they have really benefitted from democracy? What about our children? What will they do when they graduate from school? Will they be gainfully employed? Are you employed yourself? Do you have money in your pockets to buy food for your family? Can you afford to pay for adequate medication? People are dying of accidents everyday. The economy is killing people everyday. People are getting depressed, but the elite are not feeling anything because they don't go to the markets. I know these things because I am closer to the grassroots people. I am no comrade, but I care about the people that I serve. I say what I mean. A lot of us say things we don't mean, not even half of the things that we say. If we do mean half of the things that we say, we would not have allowed this country to rot as much as it now has. The country is on a quickening sand of disaster. We have a cancer and until that cancer is eliminated, we will have no democracy to celebrate.

Does the National Assembly share in the blame?

Of course, we are all to blame. Even though I am young in this democracy as I just came in about two years ago, I still take the blame. But, remember that a tree cannot make a forest. When you are one out of a thousand, and you are trying to direct it this way, and others are trying to direct it another way because they believe that by so doing their pockets will be full your contributions will not be felt. Everybody is rushing and ensuring that their pockets are full, and grabbing for themselves. The truth is that we should be concerned more about the people before we are concerned about our pockets. Yes, we are all to share in this blame, especially the old-timers.

Can you see a way out?

There is only one way out, and that is to face realities and make sure we are doing the right thing. Somebody has to get up and say this is it. We are not doing well. The country is not doing okay. Go around the country and look at the faces of the people. Their faces tell it all. There is sorrow and anger on their faces. That is what we should be concerned about, because if we are not concerned about it now, it is going to be a problem down the road.

Do we need a Messiah to fix things in Nigeria?

Nigeria needs more than a messiah. We need messiahs. We need Jesus here. We need Mohammed too. We need everybody to unite and work together. We can't just blame one person. We can't just blame the government because we are all in it together. We all have to start saying the truth. You don't need to carry guns. If you are asked, just say the truth. Are things going in the right direction? No. We are not going in the right direction. We have to stop and reassess ourselves, from the government down. What democracy are we practicing? We are joking with ourselves.

But government is always assuring the people that things will get better.

What do you think as a journalist who has been listening to the government? Have you seen anything new?

I will tell you what is wrong. This is a country that produces gas. When we take this gas to another country, they refine it and bring it back to us. We sell it out at N1, when they bring it back, they give it back to us at N10. Does that make any sense? This country is one of the leading oil producers in the world, but we have been lining up to buy gas for about a month now. Yet, we have a government here, and everybody is saying it is not going to be long. Why not find the solution and do it quick? This is a problem for this country. We cannot go on like this. This is a country that can produce enough food to feed Africa but don't have enough to feed itself. A country that used to be number two in Africa in industrial and manufacturing sectors, but is nowhere to be found now. All of our industries have moved outside the country. These are the things that we need to be looking at and ask if we are really moving forward. If we can answer all these right, then we are moving forward. If the answers are negative, then we are not going anywhere.

Will you agree with those saying that corruption is the bane of our democracy?

What I know is that we have a problem.

This country is very sick.

Whatever the problem is, those in the position of authority should identify it, because once you know what the problem is, the solution will not be far-fetched.

Corruption or no corruption, I know for sure that accountability should be the main focus of everyone in this country; not picking somebody up and accusing him of stealing N6 billion, and then putting him in jail for six months. Is that really accountability? Six months in jail for N6 billion! If you ask any Nigerian out there, he will prefer taking that N6 billion and spend six years in prison.

We need accountability in this country; that will be the solution. If you claim that a governor steals such an amount of money while in government, where were you when he was doing the stealing for four years? There should be a check somewhere. We all know that this happens on a regular basis. We should have a system that would keep all this so-called corruption in line before it gets out of hand. Another example is that of President Umaru Yar'Adua asking the Senate to approve some money as loan to another African country when we are all in the same shoes. You are asking us to loan $10 million to another African country. That is about a quarter of our budget, when we don't have enough to provide for our people. We can't even feed our people. We still have the same problem since 1960 when the British left, yet, we are trying to be the Father Christmas of Africa.

What type of reform will you recommend to the Federal Government to fortify the nation's democracy?

We have to pray for good leadership. We have to pray for leaders that are really determined to make a change, leaders that will put the interest of the citizenry before theirs, and leaders that think about the people before themselves. We need to have people with direction, people with plan, people with ambition and people that really want change for this country. We don't want people that will want to fake a change because that is what we are doing right now.

What hope do you offer the electorates?

I will keep praying. I have said it before that a tree cannot make a forest. I know there are people like me who think the same way and are convinced that we need a change, and that it is now. Can you imagine why the railroad plan is being derailed? The answer is that people with pecuniary interests are the ones frustrating it. That means they are looking for personal benefits instead of that of all Nigerians. That is the way we are. We are selfish individuals. We do not know how to share with the whole country. If you look into the gas sector too, you will find that some people with interest are the ones derailing the whole plan because there is no excuse for a country that got independence in 1960, and had discovered oil long before then not to have a refinery. The refineries that we have are not operating. The complaint is that there is no electricity. Do we really need to live like this? People should be looking inwards and making sure that we have alternatives. We used to be very well respect for our agricultural ability, but today where is that reputation? If you enquire about the farmers of those days, they are now roadside petty traders in Lagos; they are selling second hand watches and rings in Ibadan right now. So, what do we do? We have to go back to the basics. We need to return to the things that made us the greatest country in Africa many years ago.

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