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Saturday, 28 September 2013


In this interview with John Shiklam, the Chairman of the Northern States Christian Elders Forum (NOSCEF), Evangelist Matthew Owojaiye, speaks on Nigeria at 53, insisting Nigerians have not realised their dreams at independence as a result of corruption and bad leadership
Nigeria is celebrating its 53 years as an independent nation, as a young man in the 1960s, what were your expectations at independence?
We had a national anthem that time part of which goes thus: “Help us to build a nation, where no man is bound, though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”. We were so excited, carrying the Nigerian flag that time as we sang this Anthem. Our expectation that time was that of oneness, we were hoping for a great nation. We were hoping for a country where we will see ourselves as one and work together to develop it, a country where everybody will make his input to develop it. We were very happy that the British colonialists were going away and Nigeria was an independent nation.
We were so happy that we were going to be equal to the white man who was lording it over us. We were dreaming of a nation that will compete with other nations in all aspects of development. We dreamt of a nation of a happy and united people. These were our expectations at that time. Unfortunately, it is a very sad story since the colonial masters left us 53 years ago.
What was responsible for these failed dreams, what really went wrong?
One of the basic reasons for our failure is bad leadership. We got independence from the whiteman and we became slaves to blackman. For a blackman to make his brother a slave is a horrible thing. We have not made the progress we anticipated. How many kilometres have we added to the railway that the British left behind 53 years ago? Our young people today are disillusioned. When we were growing up things were good. In those days, once you get your A ‘Level (Advance Level) certificate, you will go straight to the university. When you graduate, a job and a brand new car is waiting for you. We never heard of graduates being jobless. The salary was low, but the purchasing power was high. Today, nothing seems to be working well, there is high level of unemployment, poverty, crime and so on.
Corruption was very minimal in those days and those found to be corrupt were never spared. Now corruption has become the norm and corrupt people are being glorified and held in high esteem. Our value system has collapsed. There is corruption everywhere and a society that thrives on corruption will never make any meaningful progress. Look at the way they are stealing crude oil. One third of the crude oil is being stolen, the one that is not stolen, when they want to ship it abroad, we don’t know the quantity they shipped. They can load 1,250 barrels and hide 1000 barrels. Between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), our money is stolen. When it gets to the Federal Government, before they share it with the states, some money is stolen, when the states get their share, they will steal part of the amount for local governments, the contractor will steal his own and no meaningful development takes place. So stealing is going on everywhere.
In those days, we had leaders who believed in Nigeria. They believed in serving their people. Awolowo believed in making the West the best place, Sardauna saw what Awolowo was doing and wanted to make the North better than the South-west. I went to Government College, Keffi from 1963 to 1967 and we were paying only three pounds as school fees. When you are going to the school, the native authority will give you money to go to the school. If you are going back for holiday, the school will give you transport money to go back. During that time, we were given everything, uniforms, books, feeding etc free. Now, what has happened? The public schools which produced the ruling elites have collapsed as a result of corruption. Can you imagine 200 children sitting on the ground in the class! Let me tell you, a Grade II Teacher of those days is better than the NCE graduates of today. Secondary school leavers of those days are much better than degree holders of today. So, what have we achieved all these years?
So, what is responsible? How did we miss it?
We don’t have patriotic leaders in this country. How many houses and cars did Sardauna and Tafawa Balewa acquired? Their children schooled in Nigeria. So we don’t have leaders. We don’t have leaders that want to make Nigeria great. We don’t have people who are masses oriented. Where are the likes of the radical Aminu Kano, the likes of Hajiya Gambo Sawaba and several others today? The types of leaders we have today are greedy and self-centred people who are only interested in primitive acquisition of wealth at the expense of the people and the nation.
We didn’t have many hospitals in those days but they were good. Today our hospitals have become mortuaries. The masses are being oppressed; at independence we didn’t think that Nigerians will be subjected to this kind of oppression by their leaders.
Because of the failure of leadership at all levels, terrible things are happening to us today. It was very strange when Dele Giwa was killed by bomb, today people are being killed by bombs. We never heard of kidnapping, but today people are being kidnapped rampantly. We are retrogressing instead of progressing.
When I went to Government College, Keffi we had people from all tribes and religion and we saw ourselves as brothers and friends. We didn’t know anything about tribal and religious differences. Now we have turned our children against each other. People are killing in the name of religion. Nobody wants to see the other. The civil service was a place of pride and honour. Now we have over employed people in the civil service. Where two people are supposed to work, ten people are employed there. There is no efficiency except corruption. The civil servants of those days served the nation with dedication and integrity. But now it has been bastardised and people are stealing mercilessly, including the stealing of pension for those who have retired from work. This is very callous.
How many of our youths are looking up to tomorrow with joy? You have 1.5 million of them who want to enter the university or polytechnic but only half a million of them can be admitted. The rest of them will remain at home. Those who get the admission don’t even know when they will graduate because of incessant strike by the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU). If ASUU is not on strike, non academic staff will go on strike, the same thing with the polytechnics. How can a responsible government make agreement in 2009 and still fighting over the implementation of the agreement four years after? So for me, Nigeria is in a bad shape.
What do you think is the way forward for the country?
We need to do a rethink and chart a new course. That is why 2014 is very important because Nigeria will be 100 years by next year since the amalgamation. I am of the opinion that we need to sit down at a sovereign national conference and ask ourselves whether we still want to live together as one entity. If we want to live together we must all agree on certain terms - all of us must agree to be equal partners. We must agree to stop all these terrible things that have continued to be a clog in the wheel of progress to the nation. If we want to separate, we don’t need to carry guns to separate, we should use biro and signed it and separate peacefully without bloodshed.
The way things are, we are at a cross road. How many of those who are parading themselves as patriots and leaders truly have the interest of this country at heart. A lot of them are not fit to be in leadership positions. We have lost out. So we must sit down and discuss and evolve a system that will move Nigeria forward. Which legacy are these so called leaders leaving behind? Today we are still talking about the legacies of Awolowo, Sardauna and others because of their exemplary leadership and their achievements which are still glaring till today. Today we are still talking of Audu Bako because of the irrigation revolution he embarked upon in Kano during his days as military governor. What can you pinpoint as the legacy of the present crop of leaders that we have today? The North held power for so many years, what did they achieve for the North? The North has more local governments than the southern part of the country yet the region has remained very poor and backward in everything compared to other parts of the country.
Why do they want power to come to the North again having ruled the country for many years? To me, every zone should hold office for eight years. I don’t care whether power comes back to the North or not, let the South-South do their two terms, then we move to the East, let them do their own, then power will come to the North and it will be the turn of the northern Christians because the North has produced nine presidents, only one of them, Gen. Yakubu Gowon is a Christian.
We need to adopt this system because our leaders have become so sectional that once they are in power, they pay more attention to the development of the section they come from. If Nigerian leaders strive to ensure the development of all sections of the country, all the agitation about powershift or rotation would not have arisen. If a governor is developing the entire state other than his locality, nobody will be shouting that it is their turn to produce the governor in the next election.
Look at Niger State with a large population of Christians, but both the governor and deputy governor are Muslims. This is very insulting to the Christians and these are some of the things that cause disaffection and agitation. So it is time for us to sit down and discuss and chart a new direction for a great nation.

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