As a nation, as a people, we’ve got our priorities wrongly cued, says Sen. Durojaiye
By Anote Ajeluorou
Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye has played active roles in Nigeria’s unfolding political scene. He once contested in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) primary and lost. Later, he became a senator in the Fourth Republic representing his Ijebu people. Trained as a lawyer, Durojaiye has served his country in the many capacities, especially in the public service where he distinguished himself for 35 years before being elected on the platform of Action for Democracy (AD) party. Now at 80, Durojaiye takes a look at the Nigeria that has emerged since independence and pronounces a guilty verdict on all Nigerians for the many woes the country currently suffers. Excerpts:
Congratulations on your 80th birthday, which comes up today! How do you feel attaining such ripe age?
Oh, thank you very much. I feel very grateful to God that He has spared me to be 80. When I was much younger, I was not expecting to be more than 74. I had a maternal uncle who died at 74, and I felt that was a great age to go. So, God has granted me more than that. I’m really grateful to God. Well, I’m also grateful for the lives I have been able to touch. God has helped me to have a happy home, a very good wife and children, who have never given me headache and my children are accomplished in their own rights. Everyone of them is a university graduate, married and a parent. Above all, God has granted me with good health; it’s the grace of God radiating. So, I have every cause to be grateful to God.
You grew up at a time when Nigeria was being midwifed into an independent nation, with the attendant optimism. Then disillusionment set in And, in spite of individual successes in every field, the Nigerian state has not been that successful, which is ironic. How do you respond to how Nigeria has turned out to be?
What has become clear is that we do not know how to manage success as a people, as a nation. We do not know how to manage success and to thank God enough. It appears we have our priorities wrongly cued. I don’t just criticise for the sake of criticising. It appears we have a morbid propensity to be rich. I continue to get disturbed by the news item, especially since last week, that some young elements in the civil service of Nigeria diverted billions of naira meant for old pensioners into their private pockets (One Yusuf is convicted of stealing N22 billion of Police pension funds). It’s difficult for me to comprehend.
I have been in the public service myself for a total of 35 years in sensitive areas where I could have been tempted. You cannot say a man is honest until you have put him in a position where he can be tempted and he refused to be tempted; but I scaled through with clean hands. I had been in sensitive positions both at the Printing and Minting company and the Central Bank for eight years; even before time that I was General Examiner of Titles for land matters in the Western Government, and even in accounts departments. I’m not boasting about them, but I’m just saying that it is possible for a man to be comfortable and be rich on the average without soiling his or her hands, without stealing, without taking a bribe.
Look at younger people in their 40s and 50s having hefty foreign accounts; I have no house outside this country or foreign account. At the end, the richest, wisest man on earth sums it up as ‘vanity upon vanity, all is vanity!’
At what point do you think things went out of hand in this country to land us in the sorry state we find ourselves today?
I think the military cannot be exonerated from it. We can pin it down to when the military came. But if it was the military alone that misbehaved and others were righteous by themselves, they wouldn’t last as long; they would have been booted out much earlier. Let’s not even start the issue of who started it or not. The fact is that the whole nation is tainted with the scum of corruption. I told you earlier that when I finished writing my book Guided by his Hands, I went to Ghana and holed up in a hotel for one week because of the stress. Now, I like taking honey in my tea; it’s a personal practice not medical. The honey I bought in Ghana was undiluted but every honey produced in Nigeria today is heavily diluted.
Just last Friday, a lump of sugar fell from I honey bottle I bought here in Nigeria. Is it the government that did that? Was that from Aso Rock or some senator or legislators? It was by one villagers, people who get the honey from the bees. Someone told me something horrible; that in order to make the diluted honey look genuine, they put a dead housefly and bits of dead wood into the container of honey! That is the type of things we find in this country today that is not done by government; it’s by the common people of this country, who selling bad things to us. What about our instruments of measuring foods like elibo or garri or chicken? Then instruments are caved in at the bottom, all manipulated so you don’t get the right measure. What’s wrong with us? Everybody wants to be millionaires.
We need a rebirth in this country, not necessarily the religious one of being born again. But every Nigerian must experience that rebirth for things to be right again. What do you gain after making all this money? Remember King Solomon, ‘vanity upon vanity, all is vanity’!
So, it’s not just the leadership; the followership is in bad shape. We, every bit of the polity, really are falling short of the standard that is required. We need a rebirth; I said that earlier. That judgment displeased me, but as a lawyer, you don’t express your anger at the judge. It’s always, ‘as his lordship pleases’; that’s our own training. But certainly I wasn’t happy about that decision to let off Yusuf so lightly. I’m happy to learn that the man has been rearrested. In fact, it takes the discipline of the lawyer in me through you journalists that we introduce death penalty for people who could do such a heinous thing. Pensioners? For people to do such a thing? Oh no; it’s too much. If I were the presiding judge, I wouldn’t give option of a fine; that mush I can say.
But leadership sets the example for followers to emulate, don’t you think? Have leadership set good example?
That was what I said earlier; it was leadership that went wrong in the first instance. But now, society mirrors the nationals. Leadership mirrors the followership. If our people can begin to say, ‘no, this one cannot be our leader; we know him to be from a pedigree of corrupt people or dishonest people, so we won’t vote for this one’, then so shall it be. But when such character brings a lot of Ghana-must-go, we vote for them. So the whole society needs rebirth; leadership must show example because it started with them in the first place. But what I’m saying is that it’s not they alone who are guilty at this time.
In terms of the Ghana-must-go politics, how much of it did you experience or practise as a politician to be voted for?
No; I did not practice it myself. I never gave to be elected. When you read my book, many testify that I’m more of a statesman than a politician. I recorded in my book where after saving a state government embarrassment, they sent me a Ghana-must-go. I rejected it; I have four witnesses to that incident – my driver, my PA, my son and one other young man in Abuja. This has been my lifestyle all over and I’ve documented it all in this book. I’m looking forward to someone coming to contradict what I’ve written in it.
Do you regret not being president of this country?
Not at all! At the time I ran, there were 12 of us in the primary in the SDP and 11 in the National Republican Convention (NRC). At the time, many felt I was the most qualified in terms of integrity, in terms of capability. Now, I contested and the thing was botched. I just took it in my strides. The day government announced that it was cancelled because of many irregularities, one Newswatch editor came to this house and heard us singing praise songs, he was amazed. I told him I couldn’t cry as a result. I told him I that if I was given the opportunity, I would do well for this country. But if I wasn’t given, I wouldn’t throw raise hell.
That is why I always advocate that politicians have independent means of livelihoods; it’s one of those I’ve advised, counselled – parties should not nominate those who have no independent means of earning a livelihood! So that if they fail in an election they can have something to fall back on. I qualified as a lawyer a long time ago so I can also serve my country in other capacities; and that is what I have been doing.
As a senator, what value did you add to the legislative process in your time?
Ah, thank God; again, read my book. In appendice ix, I have written nine reasons why Nigerians cannot afford to impeach its leaders because it will be invitation to the military. It’s one of my major achievements as a senator. In 2002 when President Obasanjo and Senate President Ayim Pius Ayim were at loggerheads was when I made that proposition douse tension. Meanwhile, the two were so close a little earlier on and I remember cautioning Ayim to be careful, especially when a certain bill was miscarried and Ayim was cosy with Mr. President. Before the end of the year, there was so much trouble between them in their party. I saved the day when the two were angling to impeach each other.
We, who fought in NADECO, could not allow anybody to set our house on fire again. I stood my ground that the impeachment would not take place. So it was.
Another value I added as a Senator was that I spearheaded the establishment of the National Assembly Commission. Dalhatu Tafida singled me out for praise in this direction. It was I who championed it. I was the one who also wrote the report of Odi Massacre as requested by then Senate President, the late Oyi of Oye, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, a brilliant man.
What is your reaction to the centenary celebration?
Well, any centenary is worth celebration. If it’s from bondage, you thank God provided people don’t make it an opportunity to siphon money unnecessarily. It should be in moderation; the amount voted for it should be scrutinised properly. It’s the money voted for it that we should watch out for. So, I’m not against it, no.
Can the CAN, CPC, ANPP dislodge the PDP in 2015?
All things are possible in politics. If we play our cards very well, why not? The PDP has its own headache, serious headache. With all the advantages they have, they have not been doing well for this country. They could do better. And in a good democracy, there should always be
An opportunity for a choice; that is what has been happening in advanced democracies in Britain, USA, Canada and the largest democracy, India. No one party has been so giant-like as to absorb all the others. Change; there should be change. PDP has been in control for so many years now. Let the parties from the opposition do something for a change so people can compare.
Look at what happened in Western Nigeria. PDP came after AD and people were able to compare and people voted for the party they were best served.
What is your position on South-west Regional integration?
It’s doing what happened before, what gave the West the edge in education. I support it. But that does not mean seceding from the country. No sinister meaning should be read to it. It’s why I’m the chairman, governing council of Yoruba Educational Trust Fund. We want to build our education from the rut it is in and restore it to where we were in days gone by. And we hope others will follow our example.
What are your expectations for the on-going review of the 1999 constitution?
Not very much! National Assembly is too busy with routine work to meddle in constitution review, to be part of the ground norm of this country. That should not be their business; it should be the job of the Constituent Assembly, the type Ibrahim Babangida out up in 1998. The National Assembly cannot do a thorough work considering the amount of work they do daily. If they take their work seriously, they won’t have time for extra curricula activities amending a constitution. It’s not as easy as they think.
You once wrote a book. Why another one now?
That one was The Road to Freedom. Now I’m 80, with all my faculties intact and I can truly look back and speak from a point of more maturity. So, this is about the best time to write. Not many write at 90. My new book to be launched today is Guided by His Hands, a testimony to God almighty thanking Him for all He has done in my life.