Adeyemi Ikuforiji, economist, lawyer, is a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and a former three-time speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly. In this exclusive interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he assesses the state of the nation, suggesting what needs to be urgently done to reposition Nigeria, among other issues. Excerpts:
More than two decades after the return of Nigeria to civil rule, some Nigerians are of the view that democracy has not delivered the desired dividend. What do you think is the problem?
This is a topic that we can discuss and argue for the next three days and we would not get to the end of it. Let me just put it simple; it is not democracy that has not delivered. Democracy is good, it is still the best form of government for human race so far; the trouble is democracies deliver to us but we refuse to deliver to democracy and you ask what the problem is? We are the problem, Nigerians are the problem, and it is not democracy. It starts from you, me, those above us, those below us, we simply don’t want to do what is right.
You can sit down and apportion blame; you can start from the head; that is President Buhari.
He is to be blamed for everything that goes wrong in the country; we know that the uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. But let’s have a deep look, is Buhari the problem? Before Buhari came, were we ok? You think even if another President comes in, the problems would be over and anything would change?
No, I think Nigerians need to put head together, agree on what we want and how to go about it.
Right now, our orientation is really faulty and until we have a re-orientation, until we have people who are ready and put values in the right perspective, until we retrace our steps and go back to what we were as a people we would not make much progress. I mean people with values and who keep to them, before our misadventure now led us to where we are. Right now, we are people without value and until we have a change of mind, we will go nowhere.
It is simple, even you talk of Buhari and his administration as not good enough, if you sit down and look at it, I am not spokesperson of the administration but I am a member of APC, but I know, not as a politician, but Nigerians and as someone who has seen these things and someone who has been lucky enough to have seen things work in other climes; I know this administration has achieved much. Yes, there are problems, yes there are things this administration has not been able to take care of properly, but it is not fair to say the administration is not doing anything. Look at the infrastructure this administration has been able to take care far more that when we had more money.
But some schools of thought are of the view that our democracy is still growing and that the behavior of the electorate would also continue to reflect the kind of politics we play here against what the case is in the Western world. What is your take?
The democracy over there grows better and faster than what we are talking about here, it is not about democracy, it is about our values and our orientation.
We dissipate energy on unnecessary things and the main thing we forget, and the main thing we let off. You spend your time defending N10 and someone is going away with N1000, what is it all about? We have misdirected ourselves, we are not going in the right direction; which of our values today do you think can help us get to our destination? In the past when a boy finished high school and went to the city and three years later such a child came home with a car, the mummy would call such child aside and ask where he got money to buy the car. But the reverse is the case now; people expect you to go to public office and steal and if you don’t they call you a fool.
What is your take on the controversy trailing the 2021 amended Electoral Act?
The fact remains that Mr. President has a right to withhold assent and the National Assembly has a right to make law and has further right if the President does not sign to override him with two third votes majority.
Is our problem really the law of the land? Are the law our problem? You can make as many laws as you like; the implementation is where the problem lies. Whether e-voting or manual, as long as we decide to remain corrupt, there will always be room for corruption and it will always be there. Let’s be honest with ourselves, did we not have Option A4? What can be more direct than Option A4? The fact that Option A4 was put in place and we knew that certain results came from the process and it was not made official till this day. So, what headache do we have with direct and indirect mode of primaries?
We are Nigerians, We know the sources of direct and indirect and we know the reason why the President has refused to assent to the bill.
Don’t you think it would have helped the electoral process if it assented to it?
If we get it done, it would help a certain political class. It is obvious that if we go for direct primaries today, members particularly those in offices now who want to return back to office would be in a good position. For example, if you have a direct primary the governors would not be able to influence the outcome of the primaries. So, that means if a Senator is in the good books of his party members, the outcome would be favourable and he would get a return ticket.
The process of picking those that would be the elector is easy to manipulate by the powers that be and the top hierarchy of the party. So, for now everyone is fighting for himself.
What is your take on zoning the 2023 presidency?
There is nothing made of man that has positive that does not have negative. Zoning has positives and also has negatives too. We copy our constitution from the United States, do they have zoning? Some of these things are our orientation and it is how we implement the law of the land. We can zone, till the kingdom comes, if that makes the difference I am not too sure. President Buhari probably may even lose an election in his home state, but if the zoning is about somebody getting in to take care of his zone, there should not be anything like that.
The President is from Katsina State, the state should be the cynosure of all eyes, but is it the same today? It should be a state with all infrastructures, I mean anything you want.
So, to me it is not about zoning but about getting people who can deliver, and experience also matters. I mean someone who is relatively qualified to get a job done. Yes, there are many gladiators but what are their credentials?
There is somebody around here that some people are clamoring around to be the next president, perhaps because of his antecedent.
He did well for Lagos, what was the state of Lagos, economy and infrastructure? It was not like this twenty five years ago; this was a state that used to borrow funds to add to federal allocation to pay salary.
We are saying what we should look for who want to be Nigeria’s president; I don’t really care if the best still comes from Katsina State. So, right now when we weigh it, you know that Tinubu still stands out.
You think Bola Tinubu would win the APC presidential ticket?
I am not God but like I said before, we need to reset our priorities, we need to look beyond the zones. We need to look beyond ethnicity; we need to look beyond religion; we need to think of Nigeria.
I think when you look at certain things we were better off when we were poorer than when we have more. I cannot stand now and tell my driver to let me go to Abuja, but some years ago it was possible and easy, even if you are driving alone. 20 years ago it used to take between seven and eight hours to get to Abuja by road today it takes nothing less than twelve hours.
What is your take on the spate of insecurity; has the President done enough?
We are in a very terrible situation.I am sure we can do a lot more and it seems there is more to this problem than the eyes can see; because a few years ago when we had a robbery case, we equipped the police and in a few weeks, everything would go.
Are you telling me the insecurity problem we have now our security agencies are not capable of getting this thing taken care of? I don’t want to believe that. If the Nigerian security agencies want to get things done they get it done. The political will to get things done we need to pray for it.
The Lagos APC chapter’s recent congresses were trailed by crisis, leading to the defection of Lagos4Lagos to the PDP. What is your view on the situation?
Democracy is about free choices, let the people congregate and make their choices, let no one be forced doing anything. Lgos4Lagos moving to PDP is their choice and if their choice is to remain in APC, let no one read meaning. If some people are complaining about a system they can push for the chance they need, the leadership is not a deaf leadership.
Several groups are complaining of imposition and side-lining of party members in decision making. Don’t you agree?
Even those who are complaining about imposition want to be the one that is imposed on others; we have not seen a candidate from even those complaining that would refuse an offer because he or she is imposed on the people.
Our orientation is the problem; it is only when it does not favour you that is bad; when it favours you it is perfect. Even in America, there is an element of manipulation for candidates to emerge.
You think Obama did not have a major say in Biden becoming the candidate of the Democratic Party. Biden was not the one leading at the beginning, but it was obvious that party leaders wanted Biden and he came up suddenly.
What is your take on agitations for restructuring of the country and system of government back to the parliamentary system?
That is an area I think I want to do a little work on to see if it is real or not. The presidential system is an expensive one, but what portion of our national revenue goes to maintaining the presidential system and what portion would be required for the parliamentary system like we had before? Let’s see if that makes the difference, but my question is simple; we are clamoring for more states, it would shock you to know that some people in these states still want another state from where they are.
If the problem is restructuring; so, you put Ogun ,Oyo State together in one basket who would rule them? Are you going to wake Awolowo to come and govern them? If we are going to be better at putting the states together, why don’t we have the states excel now, like the western region excelled then?
Tell us about your political future; are you seeking an elective position in 2023?
I am praying for Nigeria and my supporters, at the end of the day God would tell us what to do. For me, I am not a man without ambition, but I don’t want to get myself worried about tomorrow because tomorrow belongs to the Creator.
Sometimes, these things just come; Obasanjo did not ask to be president in 1999. Let me tell you, Sanwo-Olu did not really go out to say he wanted to be Governor; some people just feel he can do it.
I am not saying things must always go that way, after all, Buhari contested three times and even vowed that he would not contest again. Look at how Nigerians across the country embraced his candidacy in 2015, but I still have that energy for politics.