- Babatunde Gbadamosi, an ex-chieftain of the PDP, accuses the government of Muhammadu Buhari of high-profile corruption
- Gbadamosi, the former governorship aspirant for Lagos state and current member of the ADP, says Buhari does not deserve to stay beyond 2019
- He asks Nigerians to begin searching for younger people who are sound and whose brains are still fired up
- He also took a swipe at the government of Akinwunmi Ambode and the APC in Lagos state for spending 18 years and yet not matching Lateef Jakande's feat which the latter achieved in four years
No doubt, Nigeria is witnessing troubling times where there is serious distrust among the political elements ruling the country. While some think Muhammadu Buhari has done well so far, others are hitting him hard, especially as it relates to the alleged high-profile corruption in the current government. One such person is Babatunde Olalere Gbadamosi (BOG), a staunch critic of the president, who spoke exclusively to NAIJ.com's Eromosele Ebhomele. The governorship aspirant in Lagos in 2015 on the platform of the PDP revealed why he left for the ADP just as he lambasted the administration of Akinwunmi Ambode in his assessment so far.
Congratulations sir. How does it feel like being 50?
It doesn’t feel any different physically. It is a milestone obviously that one thanks God for. One is eternally grateful for having had the opportunity to at least get to this age. One prays to live for many more years. We have had people who have lived to 120 and lived productive and sound lives. We continue to pray that God counts me among those that would be productive into their centenary years.
If you look back now, let’s know some of the things you are grateful for.
I am grateful for my life, grateful to have had my children, my wife, grateful to have made the choice to marry her. There are times when God blesses you and you don’t realise it. Perhaps, decades later is when you come to know that God had your back at a particular time that you didn’t realise, because things happen and you see what you didn’t see then. There are many things to be grateful for, the most important being that God has used me the way he has thus far, and I give Him the glory for this.
Are there things you would actually have wished to revisit if you could turn back the hands of time?
I’m really glad I lived my life the way I have lived it. At a point earlier in my life I thought I'd missed out some things but it turned out that it was all overrated. That is how I feel now.
One your major dreams has been to govern Lagos state…
There is still a possibility while one is alive.
But what exactly happened? What is militating against it?
That is a question for Lagosians to answer.
Is it really a question for Lagosians or the PDP actually?
What is gone is gone. I don’t like to talk about stuff that I have discarded. What is in the past is in the past. All I am looking to do now is move forward.
Sometimes, analysts would say it is good to look at the past to be able to fashion a future…
No, no. it is good to know where you are coming from. That is what it is. I know my past well enough, and I don’t want to go back to it. All I care about now is the future and those coming behind me; your generation, the generation of my children. I’m excited for the future and I want to see what it has to offer. There was a time when there were no mobile phones, and all of a sudden, the mobile phone revolution started. I remember back in England about 20 years ago, we had the Mercury 121, a phone that got so hot that it could fry an egg. They were bulky and heavy back then, they were the future we witnessed, from the days when we used to have table-top dial telephones and watch mobile communications devices in sci-fi films like Star Trek and Space 1999.
Today, we have moved on. Now you even have phones you can wear on your wrist. It is only a matter of time before you have projector phones, because some prototypes have been tested already where you just wear a wristband and it projects the phone on to your forearm. Then you can dial the numbers. I watch technology and human progress and I am fascinated by it all. I hope to see what is next, not what is gone.
What is my concern now is the future and I want to play a role to make it happen. In the US, youths started Facebook, Yahoo!, Tesla and YouTube. All have changed the world. I want to see what our own youths can do, given the right climate, an enabling environment and fair opportunities by both public sector policies and initiatives, and private sector innovation and funding.
Could it then be right to say you don’t believe the PDP has a future like you just described and that this was why you left the party?
Again, I really would rather not talk about the past.
I broke the news of your defection from the PDP to the ADP on NAIJ.com and it was shocking to people. Many would have thought that you would move to the APC. What attracted you?
Well, the direction that the PDP was headed, and is still headed, was not one I wanted for my life. I want a future where my children and the children of any other person can dream big dreams and make them happen. I want to live in a country where people have no fear of going sleep at night wherever they may be, where people would not think that because they are in a particular profession, like farming, they are at risk of life and limb, just because some people think that they own the country and can ride cattle roughshod through their sweat and toil and eat up their farm produce; and even kill them if they protest, all unchallenged.
I want to live in a free country, not like a slave. I don’t want to live in a country where there is one prescribed role for some and other roles for others. I don’t want to live in a country where some corrupt people are strung up on the gallows while some others are celebrated and even decorated just because they belong to a particular religion or ethnic group. The country I want, and which we are going to make though the ADP, is one in which everyone is truly equal before the law, a country where everyone has an equal right to reach for the stars, one everyone would be proud of.
I have realized that the only way I can have that kind of a country is if I build it myself. I was born in 1967 and have watched what happened since then. The same players that participated in coups, pogroms and genocides, even before I was born, are the same people still ruling in Nigeria today. I am now 50, they started when they were in their 20s and have refused to let go. They have held the country in a vice-like iron grip since then till now.
All I am saying is that we need to move on from whatever is the limitation of their imagination because the Nigeria you are looking at today is the best they can think of. This Nigeria is the clearest reflection of their minds. There are many Nigerians that have better minds than this. You can see pockets of creativity and innovation among Nigerians around the world. You can see Nigerians doing wonderful things and contributing to the sum total of human development across the world except in Nigeria. It's only in entertainment that creativity thrives in Nigeria. So what is driving me is the desire to bring all that creativity and self-starting character to bear on our national and political lives, on infrastructure, on security, on legislation, on the administration of justice and the general running of the country.
We need younger people to start having a direct influence, not merely as consultants, but having a governor that is 36 years old and that has had the opportunity of working on the some of the best technologies in the world. I speak about having legislators who have been celebrated as among the world’s top innovators. And these many of these people. We need them to come up. I am hoping that the generation of my children and the ones coming would see me as their avatar. I would like to see a 28-year-old minister, people whose neural pathways are still firing on all cylinders; these are the people we need.
At 50 with the right diet and exercise, I hope to still be strong at 70. But at 70, do I still have the agility to keep doing the things I am doing today? No. that is the reality. And to then impose oneself on people at the age of 70, 80 and insist that you want to be president of 180 million or more people is a disservice to humanity. It is an indictment of yourself. It is you saying: “I didn’t do a good job of training the people are behind me." It is a pathetic admission of abject failure. That’s what it is. I am already looking behind me for a successor in my personal endeavor. Why must anybody think that he is the only smart person in the country?
I am glad though that some of the recent developments in our political lives have happened, because had they not, a lot of people would have been wasting time thinking ‘if only we had allowed this man, the country would have been a bed of roses’. I’m hoping that with the events since May 29, 2015, Nigerians have now learnt their lessons. Even those still singing halleluiah and ‘sai Baba’ publicly, in private, they know the pains they are going through. Even those who are beneficiaries of the outrageous corruption that has been going on since 2015 are not comfortable to spend the ill-gotten gains of their political misadventures.
You think there can be outrageous corruption in a government that is fighting against graft?
Well, a memo from the minister of state for petroleum to the president leaked where he stated clearly that $26 billion worth of petroleum contracts had been signed improperly, there had been no due process. Basically, to not sugar-coat his allegation, he was alleging corruption. If you issue a contract of N1 without making it go through due process, you are corrupt, you have corrupted the system. Why would you avoid due process if there was nothing to hide?
The mere fact that due process was avoided indicates clearly that some theft is going on.
What do you think about the perceived silence of the president concerning the issue?
I will tell you the truth. I don’t care what the president says. I have no opinion on anything he has to say. What I want is for his term to finish and we vote him out democratically. That’s all. Or he resigns due to any reasons he might want to proffer, ill-health being number one on the list or he is impeached due to the many very serious constitutional violations that he has committed since he took office in 2015. He has dragged this country into a pit and it is going to be a huge struggle to get out of it.
We can drag this country out of the pit really quickly but it would need a lot of effort by a lot of committed and determined people. The people that surround him now do not have the qualities required to turn us into a South Korea.
Maybe that is why some Nigerians are calling for the sack of some of his cabinet members…
No, the cabinet members are there due to the frankly bad judgement of Mr President. The buck stops at his desk. You cannot say when previous presidents were in charge, the buck stopped at their desks and then, suddenly change because it is now General Buhari, that the buck now stops somewhere else. He spent six long excruciatingly painful months digging those people out from his bedside. These are people he campaigned with. None of them is a stranger to him, yet he still searched for them for six months spending the entire 2015 budget voted for ministers and their aides without due process. Who spent the money voted for them in those six months? That is a major constitutional infraction right there.
The constitution says the Federal Executive Council must meet periodically. Between May and December, 2015, there were no Federal Executive Council meetings. That is another constitutional infraction right there. Those two are very serious in the life of any country. The failure to appoint a cabinet itself is not necessarily a constitutional issue. You can make a legal but amoral argument about the fact that there is no law that says you must appoint a cabinet within a stipulated time. But there is something immoral about coming to office on the platform of anti-corruption and then you corruptly appropriate all the funds meant specific individuals who you deliberately refused to appoint.
So, basically, what Mr President was doing was spending the budget alone, which is illegal, unconstitutional and a clear infringement of the 2015 Appropriation Act?
Do you think there are truly credible people who can take over from the president should he resign or be impeached?
Many. Out of 180 million people at home and millions abroad, are you going to sit there and honestly tell me that it is that difficult to find somebody that can run Nigeria or to find people that can do it? There are successful businessmen, professionals and technocrats across the world from Nigeria. You want to compare such people with a person with school leaving certificate issues?
If it is a matter of personal integrity, then you need to start questioning his statement at Chatham House about how Nigerian leaders were going abroad seek medical attention and juxtapose that with the 105 days he spent at the expense of Nigeria in London for medical reasons in addition to the expenses of all the aides that went with him and the presidential jet that was parked at Stansted airport for 105 days. You want to talk to me about integrity? Let’s start with that. Let’s talk about the series of inconclusive elections that materialized since he came into office.
Are you not scared that the DSS might come for you again?
Why should I be scared? The worst they can do is kill me.
And you are not scared of death?
We only die once, young man. We are in this world to contribute our quota. And if God decides that my quota was this interview, so be it. God owns our lives. I pray to live longer and hope to give those coming behind us a better quality life than we had. As I sit here, I am contributing to the development of my state directly and indirectly, sometimes through trenchant criticism, which makes the authorities sit up. Sometimes, I physically take the bull by the horn and do things myself.
My prayer is to one day be able to step out of Amen Estate, take a bus to the train station, take a train to Badagry and get there less than an hour. Go to Badagry Beach, drink an ice cold coconut punch with hot suya. Then in the evening, walk to the bus stop at Badagry, take the bus to the train station and get back to Eleko, interchanging once or twice.
You have spoken like the statesman that you are, but can this dream ever come to reality in Nigeria looking at the kind of leadership and the disillusionment among the citizens?
Let me ask you; do you think it can’t? I have already crossed fifty, yet I believe it is possible. The question is you…do you think it is possible? Why should you entertain any doubt? I have already envisaged it. I envisaged Amen Estate and I made it happen. People say in Nigeria we can’t have 24-hour electricity, we can’t have water, if you are moving to Nigeria, you have to get your generator and all such stuff. But I said I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to spend precious thinking time running after diesel and mai ruwa. So you know what? I just went ahead and built Amen Estate.
So why is the government not taking a cue? What is really wrong?
It really is a question of mentality driven by needs, needs driven by fears, fears driven by half realities on the ground, realities developed by those with smaller minds but that are required to run a country of this size. I give an example; the average civil servant is paid barely enough to pay his house rent. He is only able to feed his family and go to and from work. So his main preoccupation is to get more money to make his life more comfortable. I think that is where we got it wrong, because successive governments have failed to address that issue. They are paid just enough to survive, and not enough to really live. If you have a corrupt public sector, then that is the end of the country. The corruption is driven by need. I don’t want to believe that every single civil servant that has collected a bribe in this country, and there are millions of them, is intrinsically corrupt. I don’t want to believe that. I also do not want to believe there are no corrupt people. There are people who will remain corrupt no matter the amount you pay them. But for the vast majority of people, if they are getting enough and a bit to hold on to, take for instance, you start as a civil servant and within two to three years, you are about to afford your own house on a mortgage and still be able to sort out your bills, be able to go out on holiday once a year, then you are less likely to steal or demand bribes.
Because they fail to pay the civil servants living wages, a lot of money is accumulating at the centre of every level of government – the federal, state and local government. And the money, unfortunately attracts attention by some top thieving politicians aided by thieving top civil servants. So the cycle of theft and corruption is perpetuated year after year. So how do we end it? We take a look again at public sector welfare packages. Let’s look at what it costs to buy tomatoes in the market, what a sack of garri and rice cost. How much does it cost to educate a child? If it is costing too much in the private sector, how much are we putting into public sector education? How much are we paying the teachers? Are we paying them enough to apply and dedicate themselves 100 percent to the job?
So the corruption in this country is from the top. It is from the National Assembly and the executive which fail to realise that the structure of the country is messed up. We are not getting the best hands in the public service, the best hands go to the private sector because public service pay is rubbish. The only way to deal with this is to match what the private sector is offering. A responsible public sector would do that for the workers to provide high quality services that would keep the country running efficiently.
There are issues with power in the country because of over-regulation and over-interference, but the government is still ruling the roost because it is holding on to the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN). I have always advocated that we should forget transmission. Let me not talk about power, but there are ways to provide power without going through the pains we are going through right now.
What should we expect from you in 2019?
I am hoping that Lagos would be mature enough to see that we need a complete turnaround. I am hoping that Lagosians would be fed up enough to say: “We have tried you guys for 20 years, we’ve had enough. Let’s try someone else.” I am hoping that Lagosians would be adventurous enough to take a bet on me and see if I can’t do like it better than Alhaji (Lateef) Jakande did over 30 years ago. Till now, he remains the benchmark for public sector administration in Nigeria. He built over 20,000 affordable housing units in four years. In the same period, he built over 200km of roads, over 20 general hospitals, over 1000 brand new schools, and the legislation that created LASU was passed. 30 years on, technology has moved on and I happen to be in the construction industry.
The biggest problem we have right now in Lagos is the built environment. So, we need someone who understands how to create that environment. I think I am supremely qualified if we accept that this is what we need. We need electricity and water and I have been able to do that in the last eight years at Amen Estate. I have been able to build a sustainable, orderly environment, a livable community using private sector funds at a micro level without tax-payer’s money. Now, imagine what would happen if you were paying your taxes to an administration I was running.
Tax is free money for government. In the last 18 years, they have not done anything to justify the taxes they have collected. Yes, I know that they would point to certain showpieces like the Ajah bBridge, the Abule-Egba Bridge, BRT. But you know what, everything that they point to in the last 18 years does not equate to half of what Jakande did in four years. They have spent the last 11 years trying to expand the Lekki-Epe Expressway. Now, we hear that the expansion would halt at Abraham Adesanya and the rest would just be cosmetic dressing – put street lights and kerbstones in the middle – and that is the end. Imagine 23 kilometres of expansion for 11 years. This is a road that was built in 3 years over 30 years ago. According to them, they spent $16.6 million per kilometer on that road. I don’t know about you, but I know that it is the height of public sector irresponsibility to allow a private sector person to come and build what you should with the taxes from the people and then hand the project to them with them adding no single kobo to the project.
They are going to come with ‘we took loans of $382 million’. I can tell you that out of the amount, $42 million was from the Lagos state government as a loan. This is known, a public fact. The remaining amount was given by a consortium of financial organisations like the African Development Bank, Standard Bank of South Africa, and the rest. Each fronted $85 million to the syndicated loan. Guess what the collateral was. It was a piece of land, 1,500 hectares in size at Lakowe, given free to ARM/LCC by the Lagos state government in 2006.
So did LCC put any money into the project? No. I remember that the 4th Mainland Bridge was included in that financing package. All of a sudden, we are hearing there is a new consortium trying to build a phantasmagorical 4th Mainland Bridge that winds on for about 38 kilometers at a humongously crazy cost of N884 billion. So you have to ask yourself what on earth are we doing. Are we really this stupid? Lagosians have allowed themselves to accept a most terribly abnormal situation as normal. No matter how much gold you put around a pig, it will remain a pig. We complained, but greed and a lack of understanding of history did not let people see.
We are now a pariah nation looked upon with pity and disdain by other people around the world. Nigerians are killed in South Africa, brutalized in India, slaught*red daily in Libya and nothing is done. So those who call themselves leaders of Nigeria, what are they? You are only as good as those that lead you. And your life is only as important as the lives of those you lead. That is why in America, every citizen is as important as its leader, especially when they are threatened in other countries. Within the US, they can do what they like to themselves, but once a foreign element steps in, it becomes ‘our mad man is OUR mad man. Let us deal with our mad man ourselves’.
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But in Nigeria, I am sorry. Our own president would go abroad for 105 days therefore indicting himself that as a president, that he is incapable of setting up a medical system that can take care of him.
You have mentioned some problems and their solutions. But let me ask you the place of godfatherism in all these.
I moved forward because I could not stand godfatherism. However, you can have benevolent elders, people who sit in the background, direct you, offer wise counsel as far as the direction you are going and not interfere in what you are doing. What we have in Nigeria are not godfathers. They are potentates. They are gods of men, who must be consulted at every point like oracles. Some even call themselves such. I don’t think there is anything more stupidly pompous than to project yourself as the repository of ALL knowledge. I am not the best builder or provider of electricity and water, but I did it at Amen Estate.
If people give me the opportunity to do it, then I would seize it with both hands, do the best I can and pass the baton on at the earliest opportunity to a younger, more energetic, more imaginative and more innovative generation.
NAIJ.com reported earlier that ahead of the 2019 general elections in Nigeria, Babatunde Gbadamosi, a strong member of the PDP in Lagos, dumped the political organisation for the Action Democratic Party (PDP) on Wednesday, October 11.
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