Dr Makounjola Owolabi, an aviator, medical practitioner, retired Airforce officer and a politician, wants Nigerians to stop voting politicians he calls ‘third eleven’. In this interview with CHUKWUEMEKE IWELUNMO, he speaks on the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, his Ekiti 2018 ambition, ethnic agitations and tribalism.
What is your assessment of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration so far?
When these questions are asked, I have repeatedly maintained same attitude and approach; to me, time of the greatest calamity in human history, have always been product of the best minds. The problem we have in Nigeria is that we forget what the philosopher said that ‘great minds discuss important ideas and average minds only discuss events while the weak discuss people.’ When we are talking about this government, the one before it or the one that will come in the future, we tend to forget that a government is the reflection of the society; no government can perform better than the ability of the components of the society.
The difference between followers and leaders is that leaders think and talk about solutions while followers only talk about problems, but the problem that we have is that there is character deficit in Nigeria, not only in terms of the leaders, but also of the followers to the extent that they are now so corrupt that they are now looking for thieves, armed robbers and the most corrupt elements as people that they will vote for because they will buy them.
So, in such a situation where character deficit is total in the society, it’s embarrassing to me the type of people we see as honorables, politicians who are completely devoid of moral integrity, honesty and character. In fact, many of the politicians tell me not to bring my professional integrity here and they say that in politics you must lie, but I have consistently told them that I will never lie. The point I am trying to make here is that there is no magic this government, the last one or the future will perform without the transformation and change of attitude of the followership.
Having said this, I will like to say that it is the job of the leaders to put in place a mechanism to change the attitude of the people voluntarily and not by coercion as we are doing in Nigeria. It has to be a deliberate effort to use knowledge and wisdom to transform the minds of the people and that is not a rocket science, it can be done.
What I am saying is that the government we inherited; civil and military regimes have been indoctrinated in that negative culture of command and control leadership. That is what we have in the military system and we are supposed to be a democratic country and democracy is the government of the people, for the people and by the people themselves. It is a team approach, but here, we have been indoctrinated to believe that there is a magician who will come and solve a problem that is for all of us to solve. So, we are all guilty of the present situation. People who are always abusing authorities and who think they are not part of the problem, they are the disaster waiting to happen. This is a collective problem and we are going to solve it collectively, but it requires a leader who understands the human needs, body, psyche and we should have the knowledge to help the people, but here in Nigeria, we are recycling people who are motivated by passion to capture power by any means even when they cannot even remember what that power is supposed to be used for, this is why we are in this mess today.
Leadership should start from within us, you make up your mind, you are convinced of what you want to do, you have faith in God, faith in your ability that it is possible together.
There are several ethnic agitators across the country, demanding for restructuring, how do you think we can move forward as a nation?
The problem of restructuring and others as I reason is that we are a country manufacturing answers and forgetting the questions. That is why it has taken us 18 years to have a nation. A reasonable people and country would have sat down to look at the mechanism, structures and modalities. That would have been number one over 60 years ago, but here we are today, we are still doing trial and error. Restructuring is a disaster that has come because of our mode of our attitude in Nigeria and operation. I served in the Nigerian Air Force, I lived in Kaduna for over 40 years and three out of four of my children were born in Kaduna. When it came to politics to get an ordinary party card, despite my years there, I was reminded that I was not a son of the soil; I had to come to Ekiti State to have a party card.
We don’t have a country form based on patriotism. Chapter 2 of the Nigeria Constitution actually made it very clear what should be done, but we are not doing it. If we can make Chapter 2 justiciable, we would all be Nigerians first before you remember where you came from. An American is an American before he remembers he’s from Texas or Dallas. The disaster we have in Nigeria is that we didn’t form nationality citizenship whereby you are first of all a Nigerian before you remember your tribe. It is that disaster that is still hunting us till date. How come that my children who didn’t grow up in Ekiti, but grew up in Kaduna, cannot have same rights as others in that state? Our systems are designed in such a way that even when they were going to Armed Forces Primary School, to even get that form filled, I needed to first get a local government of my state of origin and by the way, I was born in Ile-Ife.
But, these very derelicts leaders who are doing these would get their own wives travel to London, New York, deliver there and claim all the rights of those countries and yet here, we cannot do that. This is what has led us to where we are, where people have the guts to be calling other Nigerians by their tribes. It is because all of us have not first of all formed a nation where we have a common citizenship that we are Nigerians. The only exception is maybe when we are playing football. We should be a Nigerian first and that is what Chapter 2 of the Nigerian constitution says, but we need to put it into effect.*******
How far have you gone with your desire to rule Ekiti State?
I am not one of those who wait to be drafted because that is not leadership, I believe that by Almighty God’s privilege for the past 40 years, I have been fully trained, prepared with the wisdom and the knowledge necessary to serve any group of people for that matter, even the entire country, but I want to start from Ekiti State. In the whole of my town, there is no electricity in this modern world. Look at those children, their libraries are on the internet and even to get forms for exam purposes, they are on the internet, have we not sentenced the next generation to destruction? This is my own passion and motivation. I am not here for the love of power; I am determined to recognise that the only legitimate and lawful ways, because coups and military governments are in the history books, is to have a democratically elected government with a leader with good character who will be able to develop the entire land for peace and progress of the society.
We are blessed entirely; Ekiti State has the capacity to be the food basket of the whole of West Africa and I know when President Buhari was campaigning in Ado Ekiti, he made a promise of an airport, which we are going to make an agro-airport, just like Kebbi State. Even now, some good leaders in the North, Kaduna State for an example, has been able to use the Federal Government and his own leadership acumen to get his own people to be enjoying travels from the state to all over the world now. We shall also ensure that from Ekiti State, people can go all over the world, but, that requires leadership.
This is why I tell my followers that my political party is Ekiti State within Nigeria as presently constituted, but Ekiti State backed by the political party that controls the Federal Government. I do not believe that we should make the mistake of the past where the Yoruba for example were more of regional politicians. This country belongs to all of us and we know until it is restructured, but for now, the power and the resources reside with the Federal Government. Those resources are for all of us.
I am telling my people through this medium to understand that the basis for choosing the political party to support is that party that controls the Federal Government so that we can come and use our resources as a nation to develop Ekiti State too just as they are developing other parts of Nigeria. It would be a suicidal mission for anybody to do otherwise because anything sectional, it can’t stand. The state can’t pay workers’ salaries now, it is the Federal Government that is bailing it out. It is a shame. So, we have to be reasonable, not because I am a retired military man who was schooled in patriotism, but quite frankly, Nigeria as a nation is great. If I had my way, it would be like China where we have only one national party, but the focus is to develop the nation and not pockets of individuals. But, that requires people who can think out of the box, people who are leaders and have the strength and courage of the Biblical Joshua, because the job at hand is very difficult, the road may be very complex, but leaders must have the courage, the strength and the character to ensure that we succeed in this nation.
What is your assessment of the present government in the state?
There are seven dangerous character traits that are responsible for failures and disasters even in politics. Anybody who has anti-authority attitude is a disaster waiting to happen. Every one of us is to support whoever person that Almighty God puts in a position, whether he’s a David, Herod or Nebuchadnezzar it is irrelevant. And I tell everybody around me that anybody who abuses Governor Ayodele Fayose would leave my camp because you are indirectly abusing me too. I am from this state and as at today, he’s the number one citizen of this state. Also, I tell some of them in Ekiti State that anybody who abuses President Buhari is insulting himself and also insulting all of us because Buhari is the head of the country today. So, people with anti-authority attitude are very dangerous, they are disasters waiting to happen.
Reasonable people should within the authority support each other. I must support Fayose even though we are in different political parties and he too must support Buhari because he’s the head of the country today. We are in a nation where we don’t support people because they are not in our camp. We must communicate with each other, we must respect each other even though we disagree. We once had a President in this country that drove away his Vice President just because they disagreed. Those are not the good traits of leadership. It’s like a pilot who drove out his co-pilot, of course, they are going to crash; they must work together, they must respect each other. In fact, the person who criticises you like Peter in the Bible who criticises Jesus is the person you can make loyal to you and you can convince him by superior knowledge and argument, he becomes reliable.
Also, we must educate each other. A political leader or a governor should not be the one who seats on a sit and be collecting salaries, cheating people; you are supposed to educate the people. That is what we call the leader. Also, a leader must be assertive. We now train our co-pilots that they are not extra-tyres. Co-pilots who cannot challenge captains, we don’t tell them to fly because it is an accident waiting to happen. The captain may be better than you, but he’s not the deputy God; all of us on this planet, we can make errors. Human skills and human errors are opposite side of the same coin. We are prone to errors, but we can only be safe if we operate as a team. That is what we are lacking here and that is why we are failing. We are all limited.
In my 40 years of aviation, what I tell people around the world is that anybody who cannot criticise you should not work around you. I cannot employ any doctor in my hospital who cannot disagree with me because the same attitude we are using to crash airplanes is the same attitude we are using to kill patients. Our culture has to change; that is why I call it Peculiar ICT (Peculiar Ignorance, Culture and Traditional), is the disaster we are facing, we need to change it.
Also, we must monitor each other; we must not go to sleep. Why did we manufacture Pentium 4 and later to Pentium 5? Why did we manufacture Iphone 6 and we are now talking of Iphone 8? Everything must improve and those improvements are the results of critique. Anyone that criticises their leaders in government, they are executed and in the military, they are retired. Every improvement in mankind is based on disagreement with other one.
Politicians should not be jobless people, you must have a second address. That is why we have this buying and selling of votes. We should have seen you succeed in something before venturing into politics. A man who has not succeeded in anything, why are you surprised that he’s crashing your state or country? They are disasters waiting to happen. In my own situation, I am fully prepared by God, in primary school, I was a prefect, in secondary school, I was the leader and from there, I went to University of Ibadan even though, I was from the poorest home in Ekiti State. I can’t even remember how I paid my school fees, but that never affected my abilities. I was the President of Medical Students in the University of Ibadan and our records are still there.
What I am saying is that leadership is what we should take very seriously. That is why I coined my political movement ERA (Ekiti Restoration Agenda), which is to restore the political dignity and honour of Ekiti State, the Fountain of Knowledge, but has become the butts of jokes all over the world; home of Professors being ruled by people who hardly know their left from right.
How do you think Nigerian leaders can build strong and credible characters?
It is not a rocket science, every human being has a seed of character and leadership sowed into him, but it is just that we are not developing it. Why we may have disaster problem with the followership and the leadership, our solution will come when we have the right leaders who can solve both the problems of followership and leadership. The problem of Nigeria is that we keep on recycling the wrong leaders. I don’t agree with the excuse of poverty, I lived in this community for example in those days in Yoruba land, but somebody could put wares worth N5,000 on the road and if you come back in three days, you will still meet it there. We were not so rich at that time, but it has happened. I don’t believe that poverty makes a person lack character, but I think we have refused to train our children and youth in school and even at home. Everything has broken down. In those days, the society was comprehensively involved in moulding every child’s character. The community was a self-asserting, self-monitoring homogenous society where everybody cares for everybody. It is because we are not doing that that we find ourselves in this way today.
So, when people choose leaders without characters, leaders who are not real leaders, but rulers, you cannot only blame the leaders, but you have to blame the followers, too. So, everyone must wake up. We need to realise that the whole world is embarrassed about Nigeria. So, this is the time for us not to be recycling our second or third 11, but to look for our best team. Even in the days of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, they never looked for those who had money, but credible people whether they had money or not and then, galvanise them, but now, we are being ruled by thieves and Evans of this world just because they have money. We are all guilty, but this is the best time Nigeria needs leaders who have the capacity and the character to bring us out of this mess that we are in.