…Insists ‘Problem On Ground Requires Gestation Period To Fix’
Renowned public commentator and social analyst, Comrade Razaq Olokoba, during a chat with newsmen at a press conference in Lagos at the weekend admonished Nigerians to get their minds prepared that fixing Nigeria by the incoming President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will require some time. He insists that the economic situation and other challenges in the country presently truly need someone like Tinubu to handle, adding however that it is imperative that he is given required period of gestation to act properly.
The Ilorin, Kwara State-born activist believes Nigeria has come to a stage where everyone must work with the President to enable him succeed for the benefit of all and sundry. Excerpts:
Are you excited at the upcoming May 29 inauguration of the new government; and what are the shape and colour of things being expected?
We have read many analyses about the shapes of the things to come for us in Nigeria immediately Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Bola Tinubu is inaugurated as the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on May 29. But we have gotten to a time in our life where we must prepare our minds to look towards where the truth and reality would come from. There is no magic to what the President-elect, Tinubu, can do as he takes over office on May, 29, 2023. It is going to take Tinubu a two year gestation period before we could start to see the sign of good things he will start to do from May 29, 2023.
And placing our experience side by side with any other countries in the world, if you study their history to see how they came out of the crises they had, there is none of them that did not go through a lot of sacrifices. China was shut out from the rest of the world for decades. They later emerged stronger. Even Japan that took a short cut to development had its personal sacrifice by the Japanese. And in Africa, we have very close examples too, of some countries that also went through what we are passing through now, and they overcame it. In essence, what I am saying is that, we Nigerians should prepare our mind that there is no gain without pain.
How do you mean specifically?
Our economy has reached a stage where it would not come back immediately! When I read about people writing about borrowing, my conclusion is that, the in-coming government should do what the past governments did not do, which is consistent public education about our situation on ground. It is practically impossible for Nigeria to run its affairs without seeking for loan as intervention. In fact, the economy of the world today is an economy that survives on loans. It is an economy that runs its affairs on loans from institutions.
So, the in-coming government is going to face challenges from all fronts. From the security point of view, the standard of the government coming in now should quickly admit the failure of the present security structure in the country and do something promptly by coming up with what is on ground all this while, which is numerous layers of security architecture; that is state, local government and federal police.
But are you not observing that the populace is getting over-excited about the coming government?
I am aware of that; and I am afraid, because already, some musicians have started waxing records for Tinubu, praise-singing his greatness, competence, capability, and about what he has done as well as about how he would tackle the country’s problem when he assumes office. I will say that trend is dangerous! Instead of waxing record to sing his praises, they should be waxing records to warn Nigerians about the likely challenges the new government might face solving our numerous problems. If you make it appear as if it would be instant Eldorado immediately he assumes office, Nigerians will take you for your words. And when what you promised did not happen, you have automatically plotted the country against the President.
So, for us, as I have know and as far as 1994, that I will not indulge in such comments or remarks; rather, I will direct his attention to the areas where challenges could confront him. Tinubu should prepare his mind for difficult times because Nigerians have no patience. And the panacea to come out of the challenges we find ourselves in is patience on the side of the people. If you look at our economy today, the currency situation as of today is in the way it is because, to simplify it – as economic and academic term might be bogus for some people to understand – it is not possible for our currency to gain strength if the only business we do is to sell oil!
Our dependency on foreign goods as individuals and government institutions is part of the major problems we have in this country. So, the money we make from oil is far less than the expenditure we deal with, especially the dollar expenditure. And that is why the government augments by borrowing. So, the persuasion you will give Nigerians to stop relying on foreign products would be so challenging that it would be similar to what Nigerians told outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari when he asked us to stop importing foreign goods.
And even if we tell them to stop importation of foreign goods, the cost of replacement of the foreign goods may not happen overnight. The clean sachet of water and bottle of table water we drink, the only thing we produce in it is only the water. Other things like the purifier and other chemicals are foreign made and not locally sourced. And that is at the level of what we eat. The clothe we wear, the medicals, the medical attention we seek, the assistance we need as a people, and all spheres of our lives, we are so reliant on foreign aids to the extent that, we do not have the required currency in dollar to handle it and that is why we go borrowing. The government business is dollar-based. To be able to run your business effectively, your country must be running a dollar-based transaction.
What in your opinion can Tinubu do then to scale through?
Well, I will say, simple. Since the only thing we sell at the moment is oil. The task ahead of Asiwaju Tinubu is therefore to diversify from the oil and gas to telecoms, haulage, and agro-allied, mining and other important economic factors that would improve our economy; and that is never a question of one year. It is a question of at least one and a half years. Against this background, Nigerians must brace up for this. And that is if things work in that direction immediately he is sworn-in. But if we move away from the right direction, only God knows when we are going to come out of the economic mess.
I sympathise with the past government having the notion that things could be done with the past political structure. And that is the reason we must make sure that we are not lured into relying on the political structure as the system we are going to use to prosper as a nation.
Are you talking about the much touted restructuring of the polity?
Of course yes. What we need to do as part of our responsibilities is to sit ourselves down and tell ourselves the home truth that if we want to come out of the mess, we must be ready to depart from our past that has led us into this. The President should sit our Northern brothers down and make them understand that Dubai runs a proper political structure and that is why they prosper. The United Arab Emirate, UAE, runs a proper political structure and that is why they prosper. The centre is not over bloated, that is why they prosper. That is one of the closest examples we can give to our people from the North. And that is the reason we have to admit that it is proper for us to change our direction if we must prosper.
Don’t you think your position on challenges Nigerians should expect after inauguration would elicit criticism?
That would be all well and good. Part of what can hinder hitting the ground running by Tinubu is refusal to be prepared and luckily, he is prepared already. But we have to paint the correct picture of the challenge ahead for him to see the clearer picture. That is the best way we can help him with. The more records we wax to praise him, the more problem we are creating for him. It is natural with human being that when you keep praising him day in day out, tendencies are that he may be carried away and may not clearly and correctly read the mood of the people. And Nigerians are in a hurry. That is what we should be telling him today. I didn’t just know Asiwaju Tinubu now. I knew him decades ago. So, I will not be part of the people that would not have the courage to tell him the truth. I never bothered to see him throughout the election period and I did not see him. That was deliberate.
Though my group did not see him, we did what we were supposed to do and part of what we were to do is what we are still doing now. That is pointing out the likely challenges he is most likely to face when he assumes office in a few days’ time. The North took the decision that power must shift, and those who voted for him did not fall for the blackmail heaped against him. We did not fall for the blackmails because Tinubu has been someone we have known for ages. We didn’t fall for it because we have known his profiles already.
So, that is the kind of persuasions he needs to give himself if he wants to succeed. And for us as a people, we should be telling ourselves that when you find yourselves in such a situation, for God’s sake, it is not the time for praise-singing. It is a time for talk. Tinubu does not need tutelage again to perform and succeed and that is what is giving some set of people headache. They cannot say he is not qualified because everybody knows he is eminently qualified to bail us out of the woods.
And if that is the case, we have to keep refreshing his memory that he has a task ahead of him. That is the appropriate thing everybody should be doing, not running after appointments. It is about giving the clearer picture of what Nigeria requires to keep running smoothly. Nigerians are so traumatised to the extent that Buhari appears as if he did not do anything for the country for eight years! But he did his best. The fact of the matter is that, the mood of Nigerians is the type that wants things to happen quickly. But the role of the in-coming government is to slow things down, because things are not done like that. All of us, in reality, we have got to work with one man. The sacrifice of the government is glaring. And the sacrifice of the people must not be found to be wanting too.
So, for anybody who may criticise me, of course, what do you expect from people that have not seen anything from the government since 1999? Then another government emerged and you are talking of gestation period, of course they would complain naturally. What are you expecting from them? Of course many people will not be happy with this type of interview. But it is better to say the truth as it is and momentarily, you will now be with me and in future you will appreciate what I have said. So, I will expect and welcome criticism and I will gladly give further clarification when it is clear to me that there are things people don’t understand in what I said.
Do you have any advice to give on the issue of the proposed subsidy removal?
I make bold to say that there is no economist in the world that would come up with any magic for Nigeria today and say that there is a magic for Buhari as an alternative to borrowing. I will say removal of subsidy or non-removal of subsidy as against giving license and building more refineries is the best for Nigeria. This is because removal and non-removal of subsidy are not options that would not bring trauma to Nigerians. And the period that Tinubu would address the need for us to increase local production and refining of our petroleum products is not a six month programme! It is going to take a while for the effects to go round. The economic programme is going to take time. It will be dangerous and should not be tempted to give people assurance that within 24 hours of Tinubu’s assumption of office on May 29, we would start to pick gold on our street. I would not be part of people who would give the assurance that rain money would begin to fall on us.
And such is what always creates cracks between the people and the government in most cases and give opportunity to the opposition to incite the people against the government by saying that this is not what they promised! So, for us, any Nigerian who is a lover of the truth will agree with me that I am making sense.
If we have allowed our economy to get to this point, nobody can hold the past and the in-coming government responsible for the economic woes we have suffered. We have to trace our steps from where we are today and try to be objective in the way we are going to move forward. If we look at the shape of things to come, Africans are factored only in the supply of raw materials. That is part of our problems in Nigeria! The entire continent is in disarray. So, if you put all these things together, it is not a two-minute noodles affair. It is like cooking beans for someone who is hungry. And that is the situation we find ourselves and that is the kind of patience we must have if we actually want to come out of it.
The difference this time is, if we head towards the right direction, people would gladly sacrifice. But when there is no evidence of devolution of power to the states, how we are going to be refining our oil locally, state Police and numerous other things that are supposed to follow, people would not be convinced that the light would appear at the end of the tunnel. That is what always gives rise to anger and annoyance from the people. But when there are clearer pictures of what will come to them in future, it is natural for people to be ready to sacrifice and be patient.
All the instances I have mentioned about China, it is because they have seen the clearer picture of what was coming on the way to them in future. Any country, where its people have seen that solution is emerging, they would be ready to sacrifice. And that is the role I am constantly ready to play, the role of pointing out the difficulty and challenges that may likely confront us in the next one or two years, so that I will prepare our mind. I don’t want anybody to stone me on the street. I want people to say, okay, based on what he has said, after two years when they begin to witness good period and good time in Nigeria, they will say, fine, you are right.
But two years down the line and nothing is happening, they will start to agitate that but you said immediately Tinubu assumed office, it would be Eldorado? But there are no such things, even after his two years in office! What would you say about that?! We are saying all what we are saying because we want to give Tinubu a landing that would not be bumpy for him. We want to give him a landing that would create a new goodwill for him. And to create a new goodwill for him is not to give an assurance of what the people want to hear, but things that are likely to happen.
What size of cabinet would you suggest for the in-coming government?
Well, I will advise the new President against bogus cabinet. We have complained bitterly about duplication of offices before. Then, several thousands of agencies here and there, minister of this and minister of that; with several aides and assistants are not necessary. No nation prospers like that. That is the reality.
We should also be looking for appointments because we have paid our dues in this country. We knew what we went through during the military. And we still stood on our feet that this country must be great. So, if there is anybody at all that should be expecting appointments, it should be people like us. But if the appointment is going to be a replacement of what would make Nigerians smile. Let the appointments wait and let the country be great. Let us have a great country.
So, any bogus cabinet is also going to be a challenge for Tinubu. But if you don’t make the political class understand this, that would be part of our problem, because the political class does not want to know where the salary is coming from – whether the President borrows it, begs for it or steals it. And that is part of the things that is compounding our problem!
The situation on ground requires courage from Tinubu and I pray he has that required courage. We have seen several lists of likely ministers, different versions. So, the time is now to confront ourselves with the truth. And in expectation, I wish and hope the people would accept the truth as a way forward. Any proposal outside the fact that there is going to be a difficult time, or that there is going to be an Eldorado immediately is a deception.