No clear direction where Nigeria is heading, says Omotola, Pro-Nigeria Group convener
The Convener, Pro-Nigeria Group, Mr Lai Omotola, speaks on sundry issues including how the country can navigate its way out of the current challenges in this interview with GODFREY GEORGE
What inspired the Pro-Nigeria Group?
What inspired the Pro-Nigeria Group was that when I was graduating from the university, I had two options – to remain in Nigeria or travel out of the country. I chose to remain in Nigeria to work and prosper. I have stayed in Nigeria from 1998 till date, and I think I have prospered. So when I began to hear the voices of agitation that Nigeria should break, I thought that should a war break out in Nigeria, then one may have to travel out. This means one will have to begin life afresh. It is only advisable to stay within and look for a solution and ensure that Nigeria does not break up and that there is no war. That is the reason I came up with Pro-Nigeria Group in support of the unity of Nigeria, which many think is already lost.
How do you intend to achieve this?
We believe that the voices we are currently hearing predominantly agitating for a breakup are not the only voices that we have. There are people who do not believe in this breakup and those voices have been silent. So, we will meet people to speak up and speak about why the country should remain as one, and ask questions why some people are agitating for a breakup. Particularly, we are approaching eminent Nigerians seeking them to speak in favour of the unity of Nigeria and this is not the time to be silent.
They should tell us the true story of the nation because now, we are hearing different versions of the story of what has transpired in the last 61 years of Nigeria’s independence. They have to contribute their own voice to the debate that is going on. We are also going to begin to talk to the younger generation by engaging them to hear from them and contribute to the narrative.
This is to ensure that the voices that have not been heard come out loud and clear to balance the debate. Agitations did not just come out. Ordinarily, if the system is right, what is the hope of this group? What people are agitating for can only be met when there is an understanding amongst the leaders and the agitators. One thing I know is that the Presidency may not do everything 100 per cent. They may begin to take sincere steps to address the agitations. I think the pressure from the agitators will come back a little bit.
Some see your group as politically inspired. How do you manage this controversy?
The truth is that it is a very difficult part. The majority of the people have lost hope in the country called Nigeria. We have received insults from people who believe we are jobless and that that is why we are talking about Nigeria. Some feel we have lost all our senses and that Nigeria is already gone. We tried registering our group as a non-governmental organisation and the Corporate Affairs Commission Registrar-General declined the request, saying they saw the group as a political group with regards to 2023. We said whether or not you register us, we will continue with our vision.
We are facing hurdles from both sides – the people and the government. When people hear ‘pro-Nigeria’, what they think is pro-government. If the government hears pro-Nigeria, they believe it is anti-government. It is okay for us because it is time that will tell. Our own interest is in the survival of Nigeria. If the agitators bring in a good idea on how the country will survive, we will support them. If it is the government that comes up with the idea, we will support it. Our main interest is in the survival of the country because this country has not been bad to anybody. It is the people who are bad to the nation. We all must have benefitted a lot from this country. I had my education from the University of Lagos and it was highly subsidised by the Federal Government and I am very grateful for that. I don’t think I have benefited much from the country apart from the fact that I served the country during my National Youth Service Corps days. I have never been part of governance. I have not taken any contract from the government since I was born. I am not a government contractor. I have an investment in this country and I need to protect that investment.
The majority of people who have investments in this country will also feel this way and will be in deep worry if these agitations turn into a war. When you don’t have anything to lose, it will be easy to say, ‘To hell with everybody!’ But when you consider that you have things to lose, you will think again and you see that it is good to go to the negotiation table. It is the fault of the leadership that has brought us here. We should not totally blame them. The followers also have their own blame. My own view is that it is better to stay to make it work than to get into a complicated breakaway that we may not recover from in the next 50 years.
In what ways do you plan to interface with the government to handle this issue so that it doesn’t escalate?
What I have seen as a middleman is that on the side of the government, they are taking extreme positions. The agitators are also taking extreme positions. When you listen to the President, you see these as extreme positions. How can the President say something like, ’…in the language that they will understand?’ When the people say that the President should call the agitators to a round-table meeting, that is not going to happen because the Presidency will say, ‘Do you now have access to us because you have become violent? Other people too can go violent and come and meet us.’ The agitators will say, ‘The reason he is not meeting with us is that we are from a particular section of the country.’ The psyche of the people has been turned around by the country, Nigeria. When you hear these people speak, it gives any peace-loving Nigerian a cause for concern.
These are totally averse to the unity of the country and these are the kind of things giving the President concern. When you read comments on social media, it gives you a cause for concern. How do we resolve these crises? The buck stops at the President’s table. But before it gets there, there are governors elected to call the agitators and have frank discussions with these people. The outcome of those discussions should be taken to the Presidency, with demands and timelines. But if regional leaders cannot take control of their regions or territories, it spins out of their control.
What that means is that they have lost legitimacy, and when you lose legitimacy, you will not be treated in accordance with how you should be treated by the time you get to the Presidency. This is why the President is saying the governors should do more in terms of security on the basis that that was what their campaign was all about, not saying they are not empowered by the constitution to protect lives and property.
When you look at this, you see that we are heading towards confusion. There is no deliberate focus and transitional leadership. Everything stands in a balance. There is no clear direction as to where we are going in the next two years. When things happen, that is when we will react to them. We have reactive leadership instead of proactive leadership.
How would you grade the Nigerian economy and what can Pro-Nigeria Group do to alleviate this?
When you look at the economy, we find out that unemployment, inflation, and exchange rates are very high. Infrastructure is not too good. The business environment is extremely harsh. That is the picture of the Nigerian economy. It is not supposed to be so at all. The country has a very high debt of about N33tn. The budget deficit continues to increase on a yearly basis.
It is worrisome. Why is this so? We find ourselves in a country where people take up positions and it is apparent that they are not doing well at delivering on their promises because they lack the skills, yet they continue to remain in that office with that state of failure. That is the way we operate in Nigeria. In civilised climes, when you take up positions and you try a few things but see that you have not been able to achieve the desired goal, you resign honourably for another who is more qualified to take over that position and deliver. The economic problem is not beyond redemption; it is pedestrian.
It is all about what we eat, wear, where we live, and energy. These have been resolved 500 years ago. We are not inventing anything. We just need the power of creativity, the ability to think about the problem, and productivity. However, our economy is run on a short-term basis. The government is too short-term-focused. How do you explain the distribution of billions as intervention funds by the Central Bank of Nigeria across all sectors, yet there is no growth? We have spent trillions on equipping the military, yet there is still ravaging insecurity. We haven’t been able to deliver 24-hour electricity. We keep subsidising petrol, yet things get worse. It tells you that there is nobody that is thinking. This is F9 parallel because we are short-term people.
Many people only think, ‘How do I quickly make money now and move on to the next one?’ It’s the ‘Omo-onile mentality’. He sells his land; one year after the value goes up by 100 per cent and loses out in the future. That is why we are here. Look at Lagos State, for example, we see it crawling to have a budget of around N1tn when it should be doing N20tn. The value of the Nigerian Stock Exchange is around N20tn when it should be doing about N200tn.
When we have blossoming businesses, the taxes paid will generate big revenues. But the government is not pro-business, even though they usually say this. It is the entrepreneurs, not politicians, who build the economy of a country, which is why all the government interventions are just funny. Nobody becomes a billionaire from charity. No country becomes great through international aid. They deliberately take it upon themselves to break all barriers through innovation. What impact will giving N5,000 to the poor make? The government should see Nigeria as a transaction.
For instance, if you go to the Mile 12 Market in Lagos, the person who brings tomatoes is a Hausa, who sells to a Yoruba, and the one who does the logistics is an Igbo. These people do their business successfully because everyone takes their quota as they invest. The issues of tribalism and religion do not arise. If Nigeria is not looked at from that point, then these problems may continue. The government has no business in business. You watch the Federal Executive Council meeting and all they are discussing are contracts. It is not going to help anybody.
Contracts should be outsourced to an agency. What the officials at FEC meetings should concentrate on are strategic policies that will create opportunities for all. I have not seen any strategies section. Is there a space on the economic ladder that if I start as a recharge card seller, I can become a phone manufacturer in the future? Is there such space? In every nation, it is the middle class that determines the state of the economy. But the middle class in Nigeria has disappeared.
Can restructuring and constitutional amendment serve as an antidote to the crisis in the country?
Restructuring should not be taken out of context. It doesn’t solve all the problems. From 1960 till date, we continue to restructure. The number of states we had in 1960 is not what we have today. This is a part of restructuring. It will continue as long as we are in Nigeria. It is not a destination but an ongoing concern and we should know that. As long as the need arises, we need to restructure. It should be part of our culture and should not cause any fear among us. Constitutional review or cancellation is not as important as political stakeholders respecting the constitution.
What is the need of putting a constitution in place that people will end up not respecting and continue to breach? The constitution we have now has been breached in so many forms to the extent that politicians don’t even obey court orders. When you can’t obey the court, how will you obey the constitution? Are they going to respect the spirit and letters of the constitution? They have become so powerful because they have their way around all the law enforcement agencies. When someone has such power, what is the essence of the constitution? The truth is that power must return back to the people.