Iyiola Oyedepo, the founder and President, Nations Leadership Institute, speaks with TUNDE OYEKOLA, and bares his mind on the country’s major needs to include food security, massive employment, and other salient issues
You are the President of the Nations Leadership Institute. What are the aims and objectives of establishing the institute?
I am the president and founder of the Nations Leadership Institute. In my years in the politics of Nigeria, I have seen only leadership failures in virtually all areas of our lives. The failure is more pronounced in politics but it is also so in the family, community organisations, spiritual organisations, the school system, civil service and others.
The major problem Nigeria is facing is a lack of good leadership. What is your take on this?
I believe that the problem of this country is only one: leadership. If we get our leadership fixed, all other problems will fade out. The establishment of the Nations Leadership Institute is our response to our experience of leadership failure in Nigeria.
Therefore, the main vision of the Institute is to provide leadership training in all areas of our national life as a cutting edge for developments in all areas of society. Our studies on leadership have also informed us that the problem of leadership, though global, is more pronounced in Africa; hence the name of the Institute: Nations Leadership Institute. Our ambition for leadership development goes beyond the shores of Nigeria. The vision is that the impact of the institute will go global.
Do you think political parties with distinct ideologies will be suitable for the country?
A political party in Nigeria is merely an instrument to acquire political authority to rule. Usually, a political party should be known for something: ideology, principles, an agenda, a programme, etc. Nigerian political parties are not known to stand for anything for which you can hold them accountable. They represent nothing except the interests of their leadership, which invariably is their law. Just because the parties are anything goes, it is easy for a politician to go to bed at night as an APC member and wake up in the morning as a PDP member.
Nigeria re-established democracy in 1999, and by 2019, there were more than 70 political parties, which were reduced to 18 by 2020. What are your observations and why do you think we have a large number of political parties?
Political parties in Nigeria are formed by either one person or a group of politicians who want to control the country’s resources without using them for the benefit of the people.
The large number of political parties in Nigeria is because politicians want to be in control of fiefdoms for political control of state resources.
How do you think good leadership can evolve in the country?
Any organisation should have an acceptable vision and mission and should be guided by a powerful belief that can be said to be its ideology. Is the ideology welfarist, socialist, Africanist, capitalist, communist, etc.? There must be a common set of beliefs that distinguishes one political party from the other.
As things are today, we have 18 political parties that can only be distinguished by personalities. They have no distinct ideology that can be used to define each of the political parties. In other words, all of them are the same.
To me, good leadership can never evolve from the political parties’ parading themselves as our messiahs for the 2023 election cycle. They are selling the same products without telling us the strategies and methods of accomplishing the promises-mere sloganeering.
With the commencement of campaigns, what do you think should be the focus of campaigns for political parties?
In other words, what I expect to be the issues in 2023 are the accomplishment of equity, fairness, and justice as a prelude to nation-building and unity in the heterogeneous society of Nigeria; the issue of mass employment of the youths; security challenges; food security; quality education; affordable quality health system; and infrastructural developments. These are the key critical areas of Nigeria’s needs.
People have the notion that political parties in the country are being controlled by godfathers. What is your opinion on this?
The political parties in Nigeria are private fiefdoms or enterprises. The owners are the powerful interest group of the haves. The non-haves that are used to populate the parties are their workers and their thugs. There may be a systematic phase out of one man’s dominated structure as a godfather, now replaced by a clique of godfathers serving as the oligarchy of common selfish interest.
How do you think political parties should be funded in the country?
The wicked, selfish, clique control of the party will never cease until parties are funded by donations and contributions from members. The clique pays the piper and they will not only dictate the tunes but also the dancing steps. Parties should be funded through donations, annual contributions, sales of party materials, and fundraising from sympathisers.
The return to democracy in Nigeria is over 20 years, yet people have not felt the impact. What is responsible and why do you think the dividends of democracy have not been felt?
There have been so many reasons that can be adduced for the low level of development in the last twenty years of democracy.
Firstly, our democracy was arranged by a military government that was in a hurry to leave the reins of government. The military, as a result of its long incursion into the political foray of Nigeria, became fatigued and almost disgraced. They had to arrange for the early conduct of the 1999 elections and exit from power. That kind of weak foundation cannot provide for the early dividends of democracy.
Secondly, rapid democratic benefits can easily come from a bitter struggle for change in the political system. During such a power struggle, a guiding philosophy would have been developed for the struggle. The philosophy will result in a manifesto, agenda, or programme of action. The restoration of democracy in 1999 was not as a result of an enduring struggle, and the only philosophy that guided it was power rotation, not the objective operation of power for development.
The people that had the leverage of power from the outcome of the 1999 general elections were not even the people that participated in exiting the military from power. NADECO was the only well-known political group that fought for the actualisation of the June 12 election. The dominant political group ensured that the power and impact of NADECO were ethnically-based. When the election of 1999 was eventually conducted, those that won had no well-known agenda for the development of Nigeria.
If governments, as we do have in Nigeria, have no guiding philosophy, they cannot bring any rapid development to the polity. For example, what is the guiding principle or philosophy of our government on education, corruption, mass unemployment, agriculture, industrial production, etc.?
Thirdly, the first generation of our leaders in 1999 may have experience in other areas of life but not in the operation of a democratic system. Even the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, was not a politician but a military man who once governed the country by military fiat. He was used to a military hierarchical command structure. And that was how he governed the country. He was not a man accustomed to gaining power through votes and a commitment to rural politics when he became president. Therefore, if he was not thinking of democratic dividends at the grassroots level, he could be excused.
But, except for the then-president, who was not a politician, more than 80 per cent of the politicians in the first election were not only young, the majority of them had spent the majority of their conscious lives without any partisan political experience. When the first military coup took place in 1966, many were not yet born or those born were toddlers. For most of the last twenty years of the current civilian government, those involved in governance were either inexperienced or not well equipped for the challenges of office. It will, therefore, be too much to expect many dividends from the twenty-three years of our democracy as a result of all the problems established above.
People think that the cost of governance is high in the country. How do you think it can be reduced?
The cost of governance in Nigeria is high for several reasons. I am always of the view that when visionless, inexperienced people are in government, there will be a lot of misplaced priorities, resulting in lots of wastage. When you add the wastage to the outrageous salaries and allowances paid to people in public office, then the cost of governance must be very high in Nigeria.
A lack of bargaining skills will not allow for cost-effective bargaining by those in political authority with contractors. Therefore, the cost of construction projects in Nigeria might be one of the highest in the world.
Part of the cost of governance is corruption, which is endemic in Nigeria’s political system. Some people have carried out studies that show that, in most cases, what goes into purchase and supply and construction projects in Nigeria is 30 per cent of the estimate, while 70 per cent goes to corruption by contractors and public officials. In a typical government contract with an estimated cost of N100 million, the sum of N50 million goes to public officials at the time of award of the contract. Only N50 million is given for the performance of the project. From the N50 million, he may want to settle other interests with N10 million and pocket the sum of N10 million as his profit. Then the balance of N30 million is left to execute the shoddy job. All these go into the cost of governance.
Many people think that the presidential system is too costly to run. I do not believe this. A system is as costly as the level of prudent management of resources and the lifestyle of those in authority and the governed too.