gbeni Lanre Banjo is a three-time governorship candidate in Ogun State. He is a Certified Chartered Public Accountant with wealth of experience in both government and the private sector. He was Treasurer for a member of the United States' House of Representatives, the Mayor of the District of Columbia, and a Council member. In this interview with Dr Moshood Fayemiwo in Maryland, United States recently, Ogbeni Banjo. speaks on wide-ranging issues. Excerpts: -
You have not spoken in a while, hope you are not given up?
No, I have not given up. My parents imparted on me how to behave when you are at the table eating, because so many people want one to summersault while at that table. Of course, there is nothing for me to eat at this table but the little spicy food requires the exercise of the table manner so my parents taught me.
As a member of the All Progressives Congress, what can you say about the current governance style of the Federal Government led by your party?
I will quote my brother, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, former governor of Lagos State and currently a minister "May our loyalties never be tested". If in bondage of destiny, mine is tested, I will prefer to remain loyal to Nigeria, my future, the future of my children, and of course with the interest of my principal at heart. Why? President, Governors, all elected officials will go one day, political parties can be dismantled anytime, whatever we make of Nigeria shall stare all of us in the face. So if I am loyal to a political party sacrificing Nigeria, I will live through it. I laid that premise, because this is not about my party, it is about Nigeria. We need to rethink our strategy. It should start with the citizenry. If we sit there thinking that someone will bring us material positive changes in our lives without forcing it, our sufferings and smiling will continue unabated. If our leaders fail to work on the mindset and the mentality of our people, including their own mindset and mentalities, we will continue to wallow in retrogression and abject poverty.
The change cannot be brought about by President Muhammad Buhari alone. The President means well, but most of the Governors are not doing their best. They create more problems for the future of our children than preparing better future for them. They do not allow local government to function as it should and as it is designed by founders of democracy. Local government is supposed to be a laboratory where those running it are expected to be given unbridled opportunity within the ambit of the law to prove their best to enable citizens to detect talents that should be promoted to State and Federal arms of government. Alas! That is not so in my great country. So it is not about party but Nigerians that people the party. Where all these Governors arm-twist and impose nonentities based on loyalties to them and not on competence and loyalties to the country, I wonder how the best of President Buhari can affect the lives of our people promptly.
Where Nigerians in positions keep lying to those at the helm of affairs, be it Chairmen of local governments, Governors, or President to prove destructive and sycophant loyalties, and these leaders, based on lies, removed the wood necessary to ignite passion from fire, those praying for changes in Nigeria need to triple their efforts and be ready to just pray without their supplication being heeded until they return to the bosom of their Lord.
*Ogbeni Lanre Banjo
The mantra of change was used by your party to get to power, what would you say or your advice to Nigerians who are beginning to lose hope in the current administration?
Patience is a paragon of virtue, my brother. But let me ask, if you are on a hospital bed feeling unbearable pain, and a doctor assigned to you is walking up and down, either appearing to be or actually working to get you antidotes, would you remain in silence demonstrating that virtue until you give up the ghost? If you continue to exercise patience, how would the Doctor realize that you need urgent care?
One of the puzzling acts of Jesus Christ, which is actually a symbolic indictment on the apostate nation of Israel was when he cursed a fig tree because he was hungry. What Jesus did was to symbolically curse the nation's lack of spiritual fruit. This nation lacks that spiritual fruit for which Jesus cursed Jerusalem. Our nation is endowed with oil, yet our leaders and those connected with power are making us to suffer. Nigeria is endowed with many talented citizens, yet we ignore them to pursue ghost in foreign countries. Countries that allow their own citizens to use their talents to develop their various countries and then sell to us because we refuse to use the abilities we are blessed with. If Nigerians believe docile patience is not working, they need to patiently speak out and protest. Of course as I said earlier, we, Nigerians need to x-ray ourselves with a view to determining our deeds that complicate matters for the country. We cannot be praising looters and murderers among us and think President Buhari and others who meant well will be encouraged to fight corruption. How can someone who presents himself as a follower of Christ say that former President Goodluck Jonathan should not be arrested if he is deemed an accessory to corrupt practices, just because he handed over power for his own sake or because of his religious affiliation? Did he think about the preaching of Jesus Christ when he allowed all those who ran Nigeria aground to mismanage our resources?
What is the big deal in a sane and normal society, if someone loses election and as required by law, he hands over power? Under his watch, those he assembled to help us ruined us and a group claiming to be followers of Jesus threatened that hell will let loose if Jonathan is arrested. Jonathan created and encouraged what Jesus the Christ referred to as "den of thieves," and the law is after them and a group is saying the leader of those thieves should not be arrested, if found guilty, that is anti-Christ in my humble view.
What advice or suggestions to the Buhari Administration for the mantra of "Change" to impact positively on the Nigerian people?
If Nigerians have to struggle to generate power for themselves, maintain their own roads, practically perform the function of a local government, and now you get on the road, we are further frustrated by police who often require you to show the chassis number on the engine of your vehicle when each car has Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), then something is wrong with us. The regulations must be changed to use VIN and not chassis number for vehicles with VIN. Custom on its own would ask you to produce custom papers for vehicles registered before I was born and custom paper was submitted before the licensing office registered vehicles. I think if this administration establishes rules and regulations to stop this nonsense; people would begin to feel the change we all voted for. If the members of National Assembly or even House of Assembly in 36 states make it illegal for Custom to ask for custom papers on registered vehicles, we will begin to feel the change. For every vehicle registered in Nigeria, custom papers are submitted.
We only water corruption when we allow custom officers to stay on the road to collect bribes, because of vehicles custom papers. An arrangement that simplifies the registration of company registration at the local government level instead of going to Abuja would make Nigerians feel some changes. These are rudimentary changes that government can quickly establish for Nigerians to feel. To export food out of the country, police, Immigration, NAFDAC, Custom have roles to play just to frustrate and encourage corruption that the administration is fighting against at the national level. These are prerequisite changes that can be established. Since we are all Nigerian citizens and we only cede our rights to those in position of leadership, because all of us cannot occupy those elective positions, we must exercise our rights to protest if we feel any pain resulting from government policy. There are many policies that the federal government simply arrogate to herself that really need to be devolved to the State.
There has been no improvement in power supply and Nigerians are not paying less. What is your view on this?
Recently, Babatunde Fashola presented an electricity lecture for the dummy in a Vanguard Newspapers interview. Really, I appreciate him taking me through electricity 101 to 505. However, as much as I commend his brilliant presentation, I disagree with him on the issue of increase in tariff. It is unfair for any government to allow investors to charge for services not rendered. Take his example of Ragolis water, and I quote "The logic behind it is like ten people are thirsty and there is one bottle of Ragoils Water and they ask the seller to buy more of the bottled water when the cost of production has increased and they are not ready to pay for the difference, they won't get enough of the water to quench their thirst."
Fashola's example assumed that Nigerians are not ready to pay for the "difference." That is insulting Nigerians. The most prudent and sensible business approach is for the manufacturers of Ragolis bottle water to identify demand and borrow money, if it has to, in order to meet the demand of its patrons and buyers. Our parents who never stepped into the four walls of elementary school did this very well before the advent of western education. Once you borrow money with interest, you can dictate the price, if those thirsty people have no choice, they have no option than to buy Ragolis bottled water. The telecommunication cartel in Nigeria dictates and rips off Nigerians today, but are we not paying? In as much as supply in available, consumers would gladly pay or would not have access to the product or service. To increase the tariff for services that are not available does not make economic sense. MTN or Glo for examples can equally require an increase in advance for recharge cards in the hope of getting more telephone lines and better service for the general public. Is it fair? Somebody's interest in Disco Electricity Company is being selfishly protected and that is the type of system we run. It doesn't make sense.
The other issue that bothers me is the issue of true Federalism. I believe the former governors who have suffered from unitary system and who have now become ministers should find a way to ensure the evolvement of true federalism, but that is not the case. On Jan 5, 2008, the then Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), insisted on true Federalism as the only basis for true national integration. On that day he said and I quote "the truth is that the Federal Government is an artificial corporate entity created by the Constitution. The powers that it holds reside with the states which are at liberty to withdraw such powers".
On Aug 25, 2008, the then Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), while in Abuja called for the downward review of the number of items reserved for the Central Government in the Exclusive List as a means of achieving true Federalism in the country. Fashola who spoke at the three-day Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association also asked the NBA to think seriously of how to bring the various laws made without legislative competence into conformity with the Constitution.
On February 29, 2012, as reported by Olasunkanmi Akoni, Monsur Olowoopejo & Oamen Areguamen of Vanguard, the then Governor Fashola said and I quote "There was urgent need for true federalism for the country to achieve its potentials as a nation, even as he said the state government would in the next few months commence house numbering exercise, as part of measures to improve security in the state." Since I have ample time as a political junkie, I keep track of what these people say which is different from their practice. He is now the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, serving what he described as "artificial corporate entity" can't he maintain that the President has too much responsibilities and powers, and that the Federal Government should be backed by law that empowers her to give grant to States to be in charge of their own electricity? My brother is now wearing Babariga, and he is avoiding his loyalty being tested. In Islam, when we pray, we will bend down and rise from what is called "Ruku" to say "Semi allahu Limani amidahu" meaning only God knows who worships him. I am glad Mr. Fashola says that each time he prays in Islamic way.
All the former Southern Governors who are serving both in the Buhari Administration and in the current National Assembly are guilty of the same thing. My smooth operator brother, now Senator Akpabio and Uncle Chris Ngige who as a governor was almost overthrown in a civilian coup backed by Federal Government Police. Is Ngige doing anything to ensure true federalism? Kayode Fayemi and Rotimi Amaechi who had both experienced the distaste of unitary system are not seen to be agitating for true and genuine federalism. See, I did not mention any of my brethren governors from the North, because to them, if it is not broken, you don't need to fix it. So tell me how change would come if we concentrate on praying without action. If President Buhari like many governors is surrounded by Ministers and advisers who are economic slaves to their jobs, how could there be change? All these folks are just deepening unitary form of government.
What is your take on n the issue of herdsmen's aggression?
This issue goes to the core of federalism, and I pray that Nigerians would not kill President Buhari because of unnecessary pressure and I also pray that the President himself sees reasons with the practice of true federalism so that every Dick and Harry would not continue to blame him for all the vices in Nigeria. I agree with Governor Ajimobi and a few governors who had spoken against the commissioning of grazing area but I do not hear all of them proffering solutions. Fulanis are bona fide citizens of Nigeria who have the right to move about and do their business in a legitimate manner. If you are coming to my state to do business, you must be ready to obey the state laws. Lease a piece of land, if you cannot afford to buy one, where your cattle would be fed with water and cattle food, sell your cattle there, period. No one in my state should goad cattle on the road, on somebody else property, or in an open grass, not to talk of Ikorodu road. We do not need Buhari to think for us on every issue. All the State House of Assemblies should be able to take the bull by the horn and establish this law and create a means for enforcement. They all make noise about Exclusive list, but they established LASTMA, TRACE etc. If they are determined to protect their citizens, that is the way.
So what is your take on Fayose's position?
Listen, Brother Peteru Ayodele Fayose may be seen as brazenly crazy and lousy Governor, but I tell you I have seen where a mentally ill person drew the attention of the public to someone who was supposedly dead and buried but still alive. There were many things that happened under President Jonathan that if it happened under President Obasanjo, those involved will regret. We need such people in our society. If Baba could say "CAN my foot", CAN knows better than to mess with him throughout his days in power. What Peter is saying is simple, this is my State I have the duty to protect my citizens, and I will protect them by any means necessary. Fayose is simply saying I am not Governor Mimiko under whose watch Chief Falae was kidnapped by Fulani and his security guard was later killed and the governor called on the President. Fayose is saying I am not Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu under whose watch, scores of my brothers and sisters were killed and he and other South East governors regard it as a national problem and expect Buhari to solve the problems. Fayose is saying I am not Samuel Ortom of Benue State under whose watch the Agatus are being wiped out and he is expecting Buhari to come and help.
He is horrible and brash in my own opinion by making his strategy public, but the message is clear. If we have crazy governors like Fayose, true federalism will probably be achieved. Now, the Federal Government is winning the war against Boko Haram, are we sure Boko Haram is not changing strategy by using herdsmen to start killing people? Have we ever wondered why these herdsmen are so bold, moving around with rifles that average people cannot afford? Where are they getting this weapon? If I were a governor, I am not going to wait for Buhari to come and protect those who will and may not vote me. These are citizens that I am vested with the power to protect. No matter what, my first responsibility as an elected governor is the protection and security of the citizens of my state, period. That is why it is called governance.