Last week following my piece-Abati, how low can you go? , I got a call from former Presidential aspirant and Publisher of Ovation Magazine, Chief Dele Momodu. His reason was to explain some of his ideas which I had termed as being ‘not always practical’. While I thought that seeking to explain his ideas to one individual was commendable, especially in the age where government and their officials couldn’t care less, I believed sharing his comments with a wider audience will be more important. Hence, this interview…
Sir, your piece in ThisDay ‘A Call for a Radical President’ elicited criticism from the President’s spokesperson-Reuben Abati and as such has been a subject of discuss in the Nigerian polity. Perhaps you should shed more light on it. What exactly did you mean by Nigeria’s need for a radical president?
My article in contention must have been one of those that the Aso Rock people found irritating and offensive. The response it generated from Nigerians was awesome. I did not just blame the government for acute deficiency and incompetence; I offered simple and straight-forward description of my idea of a radical President. I’m not an arm-chair critic. I think deep before I write. I did not want to just apportion blames. I knew I can help the situation in my own modest way by becoming a doer instead of a talker.
I’m aware that some Nigerians believe we have all the time in the world to catch up with the rest of the world but I disagree vehemently with them. That was the basis of my call for a radical President. The solution therefore is for all of us to work at finding a leader who’s genuinely committed to sacrificing his personal comfort for the sake of Nigeria and Nigerians. We don’t need preachers who tell us to do one thing while he’s doing another.
Nigeria desperately needs a leader who can inspire our youths who occupy about 70 percent of our population. These youths are supposed to be the salt of our nation. But they are totally frustrated, disillusioned, disenfranchised, disoriented rudderless and defenceless, a situation that has led to an upsurge in crime and general misery. The envisaged leader would possess the requisite charisma and charms to carry the people along. His ideology and principle must be succinct and practical. He must operate a global vision of governance and must not be buried in a cocoon of ethnic jingoism.
Abati’s hint, in his response, that your wife may or may not have voted for you was largely condemned as unnecessary and rightly so but in your rebuttal you alluded to Abati’s polygamy. Is that simply a case of tit for tat? If not, what significance does it bring to the issue at hand?
Dr Reuben Abati didn’t have to bring his own sister, my wife, into his response. He’s close to my family and we have come through thick and thin together. Reuben knew my wife is like my mother and my spiritual pillar. Why won’t she vote for me? We are in an era of social media and must never allow lies to stick on Google. My response was to put the records straight and was not an attempt to hit back at him. Bigamy is not a sin or crime in Nigeria to the best of my knowledge. But we have since settled the matter. Reuben demonstrated uncommon maturity by calling me and my wife separately to offer apologies. I also apologized that I inadvertently revealed his marital status which I thought was a public knowledge.
The nation was rocked by the recent removal of fuel subsidy. Following widespread protests and condemnation of the policy, a probe was initiated and some rather disturbing facts have come to fore. What is your take on the subsidy policy and its corresponding effects?
I will be very direct. I’m one of those who believe that the whole business of paying subsidy on refined petroleum was like a secret cult arrangement. Even if government had to pay subsidy at all, the amount was negligible at under N500 billion. If that was all 160 million Nigerians would share from our commonwealth, so be it. But under this government, the subsidy became bloated and is now projected to hit over N2 trillion and no one has been sanctioned for this colossal waste. I’m totally opposed to punishing the poor for the sins of the rich. They should sort out their own mess and give the poor a breather.
I know our top economists will disagree with me but that is their business. Nigerian citizens are not benefitting anything from our country. I think the only thing that is free here is the air God gave us to breath. Even that has been polluted by the odoriferous fumes from our generators. If I were the President I will manage the subsidy in a way that it will come to not more than N250 billion in the short run and urgently revamp our refineries in the long run. Nigerians deserve to enjoy some amnesty too.
The issue of Boko Haram and security is currently a matter that warrants sleepless nights. Devastating attacks have been carried out across the country and many have criticized the President’s handling of this issue. What would you have done differently if faced with similar security challenges?
I wrote my BA dissertation on detective stories and the first thing I learnt was to check the motive in every crime. It is sad that our security agencies are yet to determine the main motive behind these serial killings but I can’t in good conscience expect the guys to perform wonders when they are ill-equipped. The bulk of our defense budget goes to the fat cats while the foot soldiers pick the crumbs. If I were President, I will correct this anomaly and motivate those who are trained to lay down their lives for our dear country.
Recently, fellow presidential aspirant during the last general elections, Nuhu Ribadu was nominated as the Chairman for a new Task Force for the petroleum industry. He has since accepted and released a statement to that effect. In your opinion, was an acceptance of the appointment the right thing to?
I saw no reason why Nuhu would not accept the appointment. He’s been in government for too long and is only going back to where he belonged. He understands the nuances and temperament of power and would naturally blend into the system. Personally, no. I won’t take such a job because I would think someone wants to use me to stabilize himself in power.
How do you reconcile your populism, pro-people interventions and political ambitions with your business interest which partly thrives on the glamour and extravagance of some members of the corrupt class that you now rail against?
It is not different from what my mentor Chief Moshood Abiola did in his time. A true radical according to Abiola is a man who can place his country above his personal comfort and business interests. It is the most difficult combination in the world, when you say to hell with your potential client. Fortunately my business rests more on regular people than those in power. That is what has kept us going. And that is my greatest fulfillment in life, when a market woman calls me that she’s been dreaming of the day her daughter’s wedding would appear in Ovation International magazine.
Sir, you’ve been on the political scene for the past few years but curiously, you do not reside in Nigeria. How do you intend to impact and understand Nigerian politics if you are in Ghana given the fact that you do not share in Nigerians’ comfort or discomfort?
I don’t know where you got the impression from that I don’t live in Nigeria. I live in Nigeria with my family. And we suffer from no light, no road, no water, and so on, like other Nigerians but as the name Ovation International suggests our operations are global. We are even bilingual and publish some of our stories in French. We also have our production library and restaurant in Ghana.
What are your political ambitions, if any, for 2015?
My political future is in the hands of God but I have chosen to join hands with serious Nigerians in opposition who are willing to seek and work for a new Nigeria of our dreams.
Follow Yomi Kazeem on Twitter: @TheYomiKazeem