Yinka Odumakin, an activist and human rights crusader is the Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, the Yoruba social political organisation. A fearless and down to earth critic of some of the activities of the present government, Odumakin is worried that the recently presented 2020 budget may spell doom for the nation.
In this interview with PATRICK OKOHUE Odumakin insists that unless this country is restructured and returns to regional government that no amount of effort by the government may yield positive results in dealing with insecurity and bring development.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday presented the 2020 budget to the National Assembly of over N10 trillion, and many people are wondering how this budget will benefit Nigerians because of some of the things they see in the budget, but from your perspective, how will you assess the budget?
Well, I just looked at a few items on the budget and I felt that there is no point going further, on this budget, Nigerians are welcome to the next level of suffering, deprivation and more and more poverty.
We are going to use a quarter of the budget servicing debt, not that they are repaying the debts, servicing debts. When I looked at works, the money budgeted for Fashola’s Work’s Ministry cannot finish Lagos Ibadan Expressway, that is one road.
And that seem to be the ministry with the highest budget
Yes, after seeing this, I told myself when they promised next level, here we are, welcome to the next level. Nothing is going to happen here, there will be more and more abject poverty for Nigerians, already we are the global headquarters of poverty.
There is a recent survey that shows that 60 million Nigerians are unbanked and out of that 60 million, there are millions of Nigerians who don’t touch money throughout a month, just to touch N5, to hold money, it doesn’t happen to them.
Today over 60 percent of Nigerians spend between 70 to 80 percent of their income on food and when you go to the North East, they are spending 121 percent of their income on food, just on what to eat.
That is the kind of problem we are in and you are going to spend a quarter of a budget to service debt. If we want to survive we have to expand our productive capacity in this country, let us go back to federalism, that is why we talk about restructuring.
We should allow every section of Nigeria to grow at their pace, look at all the gold in Zamfara, it is bandits that are taking it away, the state government cannot touch it just because it belongs to the Federal Government, yet you don’t want to accept because you want to keep this command and control system, you will not allow the people to control their lives.
This country seems to be sinking deeper and deeper into problems, what can restructuring do to remedy the situation?
Restructuring will arrest the decline, the slide in terms of taking the country back to the basics. What is lacking here, Nigeria is a poor country, even the few people that we have most of them are just stealing money.
Go to Mumbai, Mumbai has about 60,000 millionaires, that is just one state in India, 60,000 millionaires in dollars, most of them are into business, they employ people, give them opportunity to work.
The whole of Nigeria has 12,300 millionaires and out of that 12,300 by the time you remove ministers, House of Reps members and senators, governors, maybe some commissioners and their hangers on you will not have 12000 Nigerians and they are not those that produce.
In this city that we are, some few years ago, an industrialist became bankrupt, he had to run to a politician, a man who has no industry to bail him out. We are not learning anything in this country.
This is where at the end of the month people come on stage with their laptops and computers and calculate how much did we make from oil and then share money, what other people do to develop we do to share money, we are not talking about resource generation, we are only interested in resource allocation.
Nigeria has a population of over 200 million, China has over a trillion, but their skills you see it all over the world, but what are our own citizens, almajiris, beggars, boko harams, not contributing anything to development, bandits.
State governors now negotiate with bandits carrying guns, we are wasting that factor of production, labour, because we have not made ourselves into productive citizens, we have not given them skills that will create wealth.
But, do we need regional governments to do these?
Wait, I am coming there. The other part of production is land, we have vast land all over Nigeria, what are we doing with it.
The land mass of Niger State is bigger than the whole of Netherlands as a country, Niger State is about the size of the entire South East. Now what are they producing in Niger State?
Nothing, but Netherlands whose land mass is not as big as Niger State is the fourth largest exporter of —agricultural products all over the world, yet every month Niger State comes to Abuja saying we have more land give us more money, unproductive land, barren land, doing nothing.
So, clearly, either states or regions we need federating units that are empowered by the law to go to productivity, to process what is under the soil, and pay something to the centre.
We had that before, in the First Republic, that was the time the regions were developing at their own pace, that Western region built television two years after Britain and Television was watched in Western Nigeria before Southern France, that was the time when the Saudi Royal Family were coming to UCH Ibadan for medical care.
Go to our universities then you will see foreign students even from America coming to study in Nigeria universities.
What do we have today, at 59 we are the global center for poverty, the poorest of the poor are in Nigeria and instead of us to go back to what worked we are sticking to what does not work because of command and control, you will not allow them to develop at their pace you want to control the lives of Nigerians from Abuja, it will not work.
Dealing with some of these problems may be part of the reasons the Federal Government decided to close the border, because they say our farmers are producing things like rice and other things but unfair competition from outside is not allowing our farmers to survive and grow, don’t you share the sentiment?
Do you know that I never believed that Nigeria will get to a point when we will have leaders who cannot read or understand common protocols, do you know that the ECOWAS protocol is against closing of borders.
In-fact when some people said they should close the border because of the level of insecurity they were citting ECOWAS protocol then, but now that they want to do command and control they closed the borders.
That they have closed the seme borders, have they closed the Niger border with Nigeria where they are bringing in AK 47, if you go to the North today AK47 is cheaper than bread, why will they do it, its because of this idea of command and control.
Do you know that in time past the amount of money Nigeria was making from its borders, companies like Eleganza lined the borders with their products that they are taking to other West African countries, but all these industries have collapsed, all the companies that were here are gone.
The President was in Japan recently discussing with Toyota, but before he came back Toyota went to Ghana to establish, three auto companies have now established their plants in Ghana, where is their market?
Nigeria, but will they come here? No. you can see in all the places, we are negotiating with bandits, with kidnappers carrying guns all over the place, who will come here to come and establish.
The reality on ground today is that Nigeria has not gone back to regional government, restructuring has not happened, but we are still here, so what can be done in the present situation to make things better?
There is no other thing. Mind you I have not said restructuring will cure all our problems, but we cannot solve any of our problems today without going back to regional government.
On the basis of this command and control and system of sharing from Abuja nothing will happen, it’s not possible, negative things yes, but positive no way.
But can’t good agricultural production happen, does state governments have to get involved before people can go into agriculture?
We have locked states into this model of waiting for the Federal Government from Abuja, were governors wait for alert from Abuja. Today you hear of Federal Ministry of Agriculture, what does it do, where is their land.
The only land the Federal Government has got in Nigeria is FCT Abuja, is that the reason to have that ministry? Agriculture should be residual, but the Federal Government is voting fantastic amount of money for fertilizer and all that and before you know you cannot account for it.
Even in the present command and control structure that we have, we have some states receiving huge allocation, yet the governors don’t do much with it, if we go back to regional government is it not these same sets of people that will be elected into leadership and they will still be stealing us blind?
The balance of power will change, in the sense that most of the things these people are doing now under the present structure they cannot try it under a regional government.
Like the things that are going on now, like if you generate taxes from Imo State will you go and spend it the way they are spending it.
You see a governor now going to pick up money from Abuja and in any case people don’t even know how much they got from Abuja, so it’s a complex issue.
But the thing is that there are corresponding things that should happen, today leadership in this country is organised banditry, you can see that most of the criminals have moved away from 419 into politics, go to most neighbourhood, most of the people who were doing 419, who were involved in other criminal activities are all now in Politics.
Have you forgotten the day Senator Ali Aliu raised his hands to say Senate President there are criminals in this chamber, he was said to have seen an armed robber whom he had prosecuted as a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) and he said what are you doing here and he said I am a senator.
In all these other crimes like kidnapping, 419 and others there are consequences, politics is the only crime in Nigeria without consequences.
Last week, Senator Okorocha rose up in the Senate to say we don’t need more than one Senator per state, because it is a waste of money, they shouted him down, we are spending virtually every money we are earning taking care of politicians, from Senators, Reps, Ministers and the rest, by the time you remove what they earn what are you left with, nothing will happen.
In the midst of all of all these, insecurity has remained a challenge and recently the South West governors seem to be doing something to work together as a group, somebody said they may be working towards regional government indirectly in trying to address the challenge of insecurity in the region, how do you view such corporation?
When you talk of insecurity what else do you want other Nigerians to do than create insecurity, when you have this number of unemployed people roaming the street, unproductive population, people who have no value, who are not engaged in any activities, when we are doing sharing economy?
All the money that we have are shared, we have to have crimes. When this country was okay and we executed armed robbers openly have you ever heard of someone caught in armed robbery saying I work in so and so factory, as a journalist you go out in the morning,
only God knows how many places you have been today, only God knows how many more places you are still going to go before you may get home at about 11 in the night, is that when you are going to have time to go and rob somebody’s house?
But when you have millions of idle people who are doing nothing, who have no hope or nothing, they will be tempted to take to crime.
What the governors are doing cannot solve insecurity problems, what they are doing is just a joke. You say you are the chief security officer of your state yet you have no police, nothing, you are getting security votes every month, you go and buy some vests, some caps and cars for police you say you are funding police, to do what?
Based on the way Nigeria is organised now there can’t be security, there is no miracle that can make it happen and governors now saying we are coming together to do what exactly?
Do you have your own police? If the governor now goes to buy all the equipment for the police now say in Lagos State and there is problem in Rivers State and the IGP says they should move those things to Rivers what happens, so there is no way out under this arrangement, all those efforts that the governors are making is just to be seen to be doing something.
There is no other thing. Mind you I have not said restructuring will cure all our problems, but we cannot solve any of our problems today without going back to regional government. On the basis of this command and control and system of sharing from Abuja nothing will happen, it’s not possible, negative things yes, but positive no way.