Former Governor of the old Ondo State, Bamidele Olumilua, in this interview with ABIODUN NEJO, says democracy is fast taking shape in Nigeria with the ongoing learning process even as he decries the attitudes of some elected leaders
President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to give inaugural address during his second term inauguration on May 29 has attracted a lot of reactions. What do you think about this?
Going by his antecedents, many people already know what he would have said – things like there would be abundance of resources and nothing will be difficult for Nigerians; that he would strive to take bribery and corruption out of the country; that he would bring service to the people at a lower cost; that insecurity would be fought to a standstill and that he would step up in the area of infrastructure including transportation to ensure people could move from one place to the other among other lofty plans. The different geographical locations are endowed with benefits and blessings which God has made available for them. If the people have access to them, everybody will be happy and productive. These are among the things Buhari stands for as he has said several times.
What should the President do differently in the next four years?
I think there is so much to do. For instance, he has shown that he wants to develop education. See his investments in the federal universities; people can be brought up to higher level of understanding with wisdom in management of affairs. I will not be surprised if he continues in that trend because I heard somebody in the Senate the other time saying that they want a teacher training institution. This is by asking for a university for teachers’ education. I think it is cardinal that Nigeria must have a teacher training university where people will be taught how to teach others. Things will be better for Nigerians if we produce teachers at the university level. I think there is so much to do.
Nigeria marked 20 years of unbroken democracy on May 29, the longest civil rule in the nation’s history so far. What can you attribute this to?
One thing the long years of military regime in the country has taught us is the resolve that never again will anybody take over the governance of the country from civilians. Even at a point, it was the military and civilians coming together. The military took part of the responsibility of governance. They took over and said civilians must not employ more than certain number of civil servants to positions. They reduced governance to a venture. Democracy takes a long time to build up. I know that some of the military people were no longer interested in military power. So, the military was not totally military; it was partially military and partially civilian. They conducted elections and handed over the government of various states to elected governors. It was the process of building up more confidence in civilian government. It was part of the process of learning. We did not appreciate the transition from total military to partly military, partly civilian. Indeed, it was a good transition and the civilians learnt quite a lot in that process. Although some people were very critical, the public learnt a lot especially in the area of guarding democracy.
What lessons have Nigerians learnt in the past 20 years of unbroken democracy?
A lot of lessons have been learnt. The cardinal principle of democracy is that governance is for the people. We learn lessons as we go along. Governance is like a period of going to school to learn a few things. Nigeria is going through a learning process. The election of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 and his re-election in February this year are part of the learning process. We’ve got a man who is not self-centred elected at this time to teach people that corruption, bribery and all those things that have drawn the country back should end.
How did you react to the ‘coup’ that removed you from office as governor in 1993?
I was not really angry. I have read about democracy in America. There are certain things that you must do or refrain from doing so that you can help the people to move forward. There must be sacrifices to get to the desired end. When we went to school, we learnt quite a number of things. Looking at the history of democracy, even in America, we learnt certain things and some people paid the price. It is not a one-day affair that you learn everything in one session.
The military regimes were a case in point. We have said enough was enough. The soldiers were more of politicians. In this country, we have had more military regimes than civilians. When you come to look at it, you find out that anything that will benefit people takes some time. The result of the learning process is what is manifesting in the country now. Stealing money is no longer fashionable. You can’t go and stash away money in foreign banks. I think we should learn that and just take it as one of the things that civilians have learnt.
Do you share the view that leadership has been Nigeria’s biggest problem?
Every nation has its milestones. Milestones such as if you are going to Ibadan from Lagos, you have several ways; you can take Abeokuta, you can go through Ijebu Ode and you can go through Sagamu. There are too many ways to solve or walk through to your vision. The individuals that have managed the country’s affairs as either military or civilian rulers are different characters. I don’t judge circumstances and situations. Some of those who ruled this country did very well. But the fact that they are soldiers takes the shine off their achievements. Some of them are good. A former military leader once said ‘I have something to say to you – Money is not my problem but how to spend it’. That was a challenge – money is not our problem, but how to spend it is our problem. That went down to my mind. That is one thing that many people did not reflect on. What has happened to this nation? Are leaders not supposed to run affairs well and increase the influence and affluence of government and the citizenry? When we come to the realisation that money is not our problem but how to spend it for the benefit and blessing of the people, what did we do? Some other countries would have known what to do to turn their places to paradise if they had had the level of affluence in terms of mineral resources and other endowments that Nigeria has. We are as wonderfully blessed as America.
But what has happened to the nation’s resources and endowments?
We see that so much of our resources are stashed away outside this country. Somebody said if Britain spends the amount of money that Nigerians stashed away there, they will be bankrupt. So much of the money that this country has is kept outside even by people in authority. I think we are still to learn that we should serve the people. Some people are learning it; civilians are coming to terms with it now that they must learn how to manage resources so that they can grow in wealth, influence, affluence and blessings. We are in the school of democracy and I believe that when we see the incidents of malfunctioning of resources and misuse of resources, we pray that God should give us the men after His heart that can lead this country. There is so much poverty and unemployment. Why? We are concentrating on ourselves. Our leaders are self-centred. The politician often thinks he is the leader of the people. He thinks that to be able to make all the money, he has to exploit as much as possible.
How do you think this issue of herdsmen and their menace can best be addressed?
It looks simple to me. In America, where they also have large quantity of cows, they create a large area; they plant regularly and cattle do not destroy anything. In Nigeria, in the South-West, there are areas that can be created, but it has to be with the consent of the landowners and they will be paying for the use of the land. But coming to cause confusion or killing people is what we object to.