Exclusive Interview with Dr. Mike Omotosho, National Chairman of Labour Party.
On Monday, October 1st, Nigeria will celebrate her 58th Independence Day anniversary. How you would describe our socio-economic and political developments in all these years. Is there anything to celebrate?
I think, you asked two questions in one. First, is that if as a nation at 58 years, we should be celebrating? I will say, no. if you are saying that every milestone should be celebrated, I will say, yes. That we are still together as a nation despite all that we have gone through is worth celebrating because, we know several countries that have not gone through a fraction of what we have gone through, such countries are no longer together anymore.
The beauty of Nigeria is no just in its numbers but in its diversity. Even though we speak different languages, tongue may differ, as our National Anthem puts it, tribe may differ, then something unites us. That is our entrepreneurial spirit. That willingness to help someone else, you will see it in every Nigerian. The willingness to support someone else and make his life better, you will see this attribute in every Nigerian. Let me give you an example, if you see somebody that is having a problem on the road, you will be shocked to see the number of people that will park their cars to assist. You don’t find this kind of attribute in other countries across the world. When you see bad things happen, check it very well, yes, there are few bad eggs, more often than not, there are good ones also.
This unites us irrespective of our tribe and language. Nigeria is a very unique country. That is why many people are afraid of Nigeria. They don’t want the potential in Nigeria to blossom. The fact that we are still together, despite the crisis we are facing as a nation, calls for celebration. Asking about how we have fared as a nation at 58, I will refer that question back to you, if you, as a man at 58, if your life is like the life of Nigeria, where basic necessities of life are lacking, how would you say, you have fared? When it comes to security, housing, economic development, education, to a large extent, we have not done well as a nation. At 58, Nigeria is still crawling. When other nations are thinking of how to globalise, and be in charge of the world economy, we are here thinking of how to succeed one another in four years. I think, it is a misplaced priority. We should go beyond who is in charge. It is about our nation, it is not about Party A or B. It is not about PDP or Labour Party. It is about running the government for the people, where it will be for the best interest of the people. Even when there is a change of administration, the blueprint should be adhered to. It should be followed. We are here talking. China for instance, is investing in other countries. They do it not just for economic purposes, but also for control. Because the world is becoming a global village, so it is the relationship that they have with people that will matter. The people that you have assisted will remember you are their friend. If I have given you money before coming here today, even if we are mates, by the time we sit at the table, I will become your senior partner. That is exactly what China is doing.
We have some economies like Germany, where they have a Ministry for the Future. They are not even thinking of now, they are already thinking about the future. They are thinking of what will happen in the next 15, 20 and 50 years from now. Here, we are busy talking about the provision of basic amenities. It breaks my heart, when I hear politicians who mount the podium and begin to talk about the provision of basic amenities. They will say we will build roads, schools, provide water. These are basic amenities. It is what they should do ordinarily. Tell us how you intend to make Abuja, a 24 hour city. Tell how you intend to make Lagos, the commercial hub in the world. It is not just for Africa. Tell us how you can make Kwara State, the logistic hub for the nation, because it is actually in the centre. How do we access those in the South West, South East, South-South, North West? Tell us what ordinary people will not see, that for me, is leadership. It is all about the vision you have. I think, to a large extent that is why as a nation, we are still crawling despite being 58 years. It is sad. It a man at 58, is developed to this level, then there is a problem.
Sir, let’s look at our level of development in economy, politics, security and in the international arena. Do you think that we have made substantial progress in the last 58 years?
If we have to look at each of them separately, just look at our developmental strides. We are still here talking about construction rail lines from Abuja to Kaduna, it appears we have done much. But by now, we should be talking about alternative use of transportation everywhere, which will get from point A to B, for there to be commerce. Even as a farmer, if all that you plant, you consume it all alone, you will not make progress. You cannot be eating it in the morning, afternoon and night. You will need to exchange with someone who has palm oil, to enable you to eat it. So, there has to be an exchange. For exchange to take place there has to be efficient transportation from location A to B. Once there is an exchange, there is commerce. People must understand that economies are not built by multinationals. It is built by entrepreneurs, the ordinary man in the streets. If the woman who is selling water under the bridge, eventually graduates to having a shop, where she can refrigerate her pure water and she has platform for distributing her water, then our economy will change. She will be able to carter for her family. You see, everybody talk about almost 200 million population in Nigeria. It is just numbers. Until you break it down to the family level, that is when you will begin to appreciate how important it is. Family is the smallest economic unit. According to National Population Commission, a group of three to five people using the same pot is a family. So, how is the family faring? I tell you, if you truly can make that family to be self- sustainable economically, the nation will not have a problem. It is not the nation as an entity that is falling; rather it is the people in the nation. Imagine educating the family, we will in turn educate and develop the nation. If the family feels secure, that nation will be safe. That is the reality. We all agree, when it is said that health is wealth. A health family will produce a wealth nation. so my mantra, is looking at the family and touching those lives.
Yesterday, there was a plane crash. Two of our fighter jets collided. They said we lost a pilot. Who is talking about it? If they had said this person died in a plane crash, everybody will be talking about it. There is the need to attach a value to human lives. The easiest way to do it is not just to look at our population but rather looking at the families we have in a bid to tackling their problems. That is the way I see it. A lot of people clamour for free education, it is not impossible for us to have free education at all levels. We have about 75million who go to school out of 200million. In this number, I think about 5miillon of them are in pre-primary schools, 25million in primary schools, 22million in secondary schools and 15 million in tertiary institutions. When you get to tertiary level, you will know that there is a problem, because for you to train one under-graduate person adequately, you need about an average of N5million annually. We have to face reality. This is not going to work. That is why when people continue to talk about minimum wage, I believe that N18,000 is not enough. I believe that N100,000 per month is no good. But it is not enough to sustain the family. it is the reality. However, can government afford to pay even the N18, 000? It cannot. The flipside is that what we do need to do to empower the citizens. When people are empowered, they will empower others. When I was the governor of Rotary International in the Federal Capital Territory, we went to Ragiji, we met a woman who said she needed N1000. I asked what she needed N1000 for? She said that is all needed for her life to change. She explained that she has done business with N1000 for several years. But she had a problem, when her daughter was sick and she had to use all the money she had to take care of her daughter. She would use N1000 to buy maize and process it as “Akamu” and she would sell and make N2000. From that N2000, she would remove another N1000 for the purchase of next maize, and she would do her daily contribution of N400. Then the remaining N600, she would use it to feed her family. Life continues. Just use this as an unusual illustration of what people can do with just small amount of money. Government role is to provide the platform and enabling environment. Nigerians are very enterprising people. I am not saying that government has done well. I am just saying that people should stop looking at the government and begin to think of what we can do by ourselves. It is so easy to sit down and complain. Just last week, an eight year old Nigerian who lives abroad, developed an App that was sold for 3million pounds. A few months back, another 18 years Nigerian wrote a book, and instantly she got 1million dollars for the book. They want to make a movie out of the book. So there are things that people can do, the world is going digital. Technology is everywhere. In the midst of problems and chaos everywhere, what problems can you solve? We need to begin to educate our kids to understand that the solution to solving our problems is looking for problems to solve. The beauty of it is that when you solve that problem, you are not only helping the community, you are also enriching yourself. The motive is not to get rich, it is to solve a problem. That is why you see in Scandinavian countries, they will just put toys on the floor and throw kids there. They spend may be three hours in school. They help the kids to think and be innovative. It is not about the kids go to class by 7am. They work from 7am to 4pm. They do extra lesson again. They return home, and the lesson teacher is there to teach them. We are just overloading them unnecessarily. We should give our kids the opportunity to be creative. Ideas rule the world. That is where the solutions lie. Nigerians are extremely enterprising.
I just want to take you back on what you said about the minimum wage, some people will not agree with you that government cannot afford it. Political office holders receive millions of naira every month while civil servants go home with a pea nut. Recently, Senator Sani Shehu said each senator goes home with at least N14million per month. Are you saying that government cannot afford to pay at least N50,000 as minimum wage to workers?
Please do not mis-quote me. I need to correct it now. I am not saying so. What I am saying is that I don’t think that that is where the problem lies. I have always advocated that when I get into elective position that my salaries will go to the elderly. I believe there is too much power concentrated at the centre. When we decentralization this power, there will be less interest in what is in the centre. I believe that politicians are grossly over-paid. They are supposed to serve. We should begin to elect people who have means of livelihood.
TO BE CONTINUED. (See continuation here)
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