Nigeria has not fulfilled her dreams, so declares 63 year old Jimi Agbaje, a toddler at the time Nigeria was ‘freed’ in 1960. Known in Lagos as a governorship hopeful, his eyes still remain riveted on the coveted seat even after three consecutive attempts where he ran colourful campaigns. Agbaje, a pharmacist by training is one of those who interrogate the Nigerian project from time to time. He spoke on the six decades of Nigeria as an independent country lamenting the state of affairs in this interview with NPO REPORTS’ Oluwatomisin Amokeoja
A Lack of Common Purpose Has Left Nigeria in Disarray – Jimi Agbaje
Nigeria is 60, can you say it has fully maximized its potentials?
Definitely not, there is a lot to be desired 60 years after when we compare Nigeria with countries of same age bracket. Let’s look at the giant strides the likes of China have made in the last 20 years. Look at Dubai and even neighbouring countries. Not much could be said of Nigeria.
What is your appraisal of the current administration?
I think Nigeria lacks the common purpose. I can’t say that we have agreed on the sense of purpose for the country. So, when common objectives are missing, much progress cannot be recorded. It’s like a company that has mission and vision statements that they commit themselves to. We sing the national anthem but there is an uncertainty about taking seriously what we profess.
If we have a common purpose, we will have our education right. The health system will be right. Value will be placed on human capital. If we don’t make adequate plans for the current population, we can’t have a conversation on where we want to go from here.
There is a lack of trust between the leadership and the followership. There is no commitment anywhere. Also, sacrifices are nowhere to be found. That’s why you will find that a lot of policies become very difficult to implement. That’s my view about Nigeria. It’s not even really about the administration of Nigeria. It’s an age-long challenge. Sometimes, it gets better and we experience relapse.
When you look at the country today, there is the challenge of insecurity. We are still battling corruption. Even the economy is near comatose. That’s why we have to trace the challenge to the root. We have a situation today where there is uproar against policy of electricity tariff and fuel subsidy. In an ideal situation, it’s a unique policy to remove subsidy because we cannot afford to continue funding but there’s a reality: that there’s lack of trust. The citizens think of what to benefit when the subsidy is removed. It is not so in countries with value system where the welfare of the citizens is paramount. The children are well taken care of. Every child must go to school. Then tariff can be removed because the citizens know that their future is secured. There is not much to be happy about with the situation we have found ourselves in Nigeria.
As a pharmacist who has served in different capacity, what is assessment of the health sector?
It is clear that we have a very weak health system. We don’t have a system that caters for the majority. There is nothing like the Universal Health Coverage. Citizens who fall ill are left to sort themselves out. We are battling with poverty whereby people can’t afford to foot hospital bills. Even the middle class can’t afford the healthcare service should there be a severe health challenge. We have a health system that is not to be proud of.
What do you proffer?
First, like I said, we have to decide as a people that we want a functional Nigeria. We have to reach a consensus on our goals, shared by the majority. I think that is very important. When we lack a clear vision of where we are going, how do we get there? Will our present governance structure fit into that vision?
We will find out that the present governance structure does not work. There’s too much power at the centre. It does not encourage our capacity right now. So, we need to look at the present governance structure that we operate. If we review it and agree that there are some things that have to change. For instance, like I mentioned earlier, our security, any country that lacks security cannot develop. When we agree that our security is not working, we look at how best it can. We can have devolution of our security apparatus which is important. Look at our Police. We can no longer continue to wish that things would work while maintaining the current structure. We need to have a vision and governance structure. When they are in place, we find that we are now good to go. They will get us to our destination with benefits and a boost of the economy. We begin to realize where our strength lies, like in the area of agriculture. A lot of evolutions are coming up in terms of technology.
What kind of education are we giving out? We have to face the reality of today’s knowledge in today’s world. Can our children survive with the kind of education they are receiving?
When we develop our economy, health sector, education among others, we generate employment and encourage entrepreneurship. Basically, development of human capital will go a long way to help our country.
Going back to the basis of what we call the Sustainable Development Goals addresses all the issues that our country should be addressing. We need to start working on them.
Corruption is encouraged when there is no vision. For example, when the health service and education system already consumes so much, there will be little to steal because the funds are already committed to projects. We can’t boast of any sector that is well funded in Nigeria, so it’s easy to divert public funds at all levels of government.
Agitations are building up for Oodua Republic, what is your view?
It still boils down to what I said earlier about lack of trust. When there is a lack of trust between the leaders and followers, then agitation will come. I still believe that Nigeria with the kind of potentials it possesses will be stronger when we are together than breaking up. However, there is the need to believe in the country for that to work and the fact is that, today we have many who do not believe in Nigeria. They don’t believe that there is a bright future for them in the country. People feel cheated and marginalized. That’s why I said that there’s something wrong with the governance structure. The moment we begin to address that, the agitation will slow down. When people do not see a future for them in a country, they will agitate. And that’s what has been happening.
What have been the motivating factors for your attempts to govern Lagos State?
For some of us who have realized that Nigeria has great potentials, we must play our parts. It’s the same way Lagos has great potentials. Lagos is a city-state that can stand on its own anywhere in the world. For me, as an indigenous Lagosian; a proud one and a proud Nigerian, I just believe that it’s not enough to pay lip service. Grumbling won’t solve anything. There is the need to be actively involved to make things that we desire work out. And that is what I have been doing. For about 15 years now, that’s what I have been pushing for. My attitude is, you might have not succeeded for office but you have to a certain extent influenced the quality of leadership coming in to take charge. When you compare to other state, you can tell the difference. And I keep saying that there’s a minimum that Lagos will accept in terms of governance which is because of the kind of robustness and intellect that we bring into our campaign in Lagos. We are not just going to take anybody to govern us. Of course, it can be much better; I believe I can do a lot better but for any democratic system you contribute your quota and to that regard, I’m proud of what we have achieved so far. Because, like I said, the quality of people who contest and campaign for office eventually gives governance a great boost. Not just anybody can make an attempt let alone govern Lagos.
To what extent do you think that Lagos’ potentials have materialized?
Well, to the extent that Lagos is still number one. Talk about development. Lagos remains the commercial capital of Nigeria. But like I always say, Lagos should not be comparing itself with other states in Nigeria. We should compare with city-states across the globe. The implication of that is that, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. We have to improve on employment, infrastructure. With a population of over 20 million, Lagos must be developed in a way that takes care of its population. It suffers the challenge of incremental development. Work has to be done for it to properly reflect its mega-city status.
As an established businessman, what’s your take on entrepreneurship in Nigeria, considering the body language of the government on taxation and other factors that tend to pose bottlenecks?
If you consider that the economy of the country is driven by the private sector. And even in that private sector, we have what is called the Small Medium Enterprises (SME). I believe that not much has been done in developing the strong potentials of the country in terms of facility, training, and skills acquisition. To that extent, it’s very tough being an entrepreneur in our country now. If the private sector must thrive, the government has to give an enabling environment in terms of regulation, support. The regulations we currently have won’t encourage entrepreneurship. It’s not going to help them develop. The regulations out there are just to take money from the entrepreneurs. With the taxations, levies and other demands, the SMEs become dead on arrival. That’s why I said we must agree on how our country should be governed. When we begin to hold the government accountable and ensure that the functionaries do better, the kind of policies that the move will bring about will be more encouraging. It’s a very tough place for any business operation.
With the odds against the entrepreneurs, what do you advise the unemployed 13.9 million youth?
The reality we have at hand is that there are no jobs available in the banks, the oil companies and other corporations that job seekers throng. Unfortunately, a lot of youth are not well prepared for the new world out there. There is the need for them to go for remedial training which will open them to things that they can do as individuals or a team. Don’t forget that unemployment is also caused by the bigger problems of insecurity. When we have to deal with insurgency, it affects the economy because it scares investors away. Take into cognizance, the North-Eastern part of Nigeria; nobody will operate their business there. The big corporations can’t even absorb the kind of numbers that are churned out by the tertiary institutions regularly. If you look at the average bank, I’m not sure that they employ up to 5,000 people, so when you look at all the millions of graduates that come out and desire to work in a bank, I wonder where they would be. It’s still about going to the SMEs and have the youth carve a niche for themselves. And the government showing up in terms of necessary support like grants and loans. There are countries that provide these facilities. As a graduate, your certificate is enough as collateral. But we can only do this when we have a social system that can track people. So, if I take your certificate, you cannot work anywhere else if you do not pay your loan. Lack of a social system is part of the challenges that necessitates getting back to looking at the basics, so that we can build on them for a better country.
Has our democracy attained full maturation?
I cannot even say that we run a democracy yet. I want to believe that we are running what I will call a civil administration because democracy is all about full representation of the majority of the people. But what we are running today is a government of the privileged few for the privileged few by the privileged few. That’s what we are running. Just a very few people, it’s not for the majority. We may not have the military in uniform ruling but we are not yet talking about common public good and services for the majority of the people. For as long as only a few people benefit from good education, health, infrastructure and other basic amenities, we can’t say that we are running a democracy just yet.
In what ways have you been making your input?
We keep working. We keep urging people who have good intentions rather than just self-interest to come forward. We keep doing that. I have been leading by example because there’s no need to fight. If you remember the last election in Lagos where there was so much intimidation, having 18% come out to vote, we can’t consider that as democracy. We have to continue to work to get what we want. We are working towards progress. We don’t have that critical mass yet which speaks to the need to wake up our docile followership or citizenry. We have a very docile citizenry who believe that the work of fighting for democracy should be left in the hands of a few and hanging around to enjoy the benefits. It doesn’t work like that. They will rather have a Jimi Agbaje on the street. Everybody has to be on the street when the need arises. Everybody has to be doing something. Let’s leave the leadership if we are not happy with them and focus on a way out. A person who has parents who are drunks and drug addicts still has to build his own life. So also when we have leaders who are not performing, we can change things for ourselves. That’s why I’m saying that the followership and the citizenry should begin to do something. They should say something. Not everybody needs to run for governorship or presidency or even chairmanship of a local government. Let’s leave that role for some people to play but we should know that some things are not going to change if we do not have a critical mass that are going to work to make it better. Nobody else but us will make it better. And the danger is that a lot of our good ones are emigrating in large numbers, leaving our country to the cowboys to run, making the country worse. We have to work at it. We cannot afford to give up.