'Nigerian Politicians Are Selfish, Lack Fear Of God'-Adejare Adegbenro

Source: thewillnigeria.com

Being a relative of a great politician is a big burden in itself. The burden is bigger and more profound if you are now the grandson of two great politicians whose activities while alive contributed to the growth and development of the Nigerian state. Welcome to the world of Adejare Adegbenro, grandson of late Pa Alfred Rewane, a strident voice in the fight against military rule and strong backer of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, who was assassinated in his Lagos home in 1995 by goons suspected to be agents of the military government.  Adejare's patriarchal grandfather was the late former Premier of Western Region, Alhaji Dauda Adegbenro who also played a very prominent role in the evolution of post-independence Nigeria. With this rich and enviable political background, one would have expected the successful businessman to toe the path of his forebears. Alas, that has not really been the case. In this rare interview, self-effacing but personable Adegbenro speaks on his heritage, the state of the nation and Nigerian politics, particularly the forthcoming general elections. 

Adejare Adegbenro makes a good first impression. Notwithstanding his manifest depth, he presents with zero haughtiness; he is at heart, very private and unpretentiously modest. His towering humility excites cozy presumptions about his attitude which leads many of his acquaintances to believe that he is the type of dude you can sit next to in a plane and start a conversation with on any issue, even if you are just meeting him for the first time.

Within the charmed, glittery arena of Lagos high society, Adegbenro inhabits a tranquil spot, and that happens to be his greatest shield from the spotlight; at least that is his thought. Unknown to him, that quietude and low profile he purposely seeks manifests as a form of novelty and irrepressible rarity amid the clutter and noise of Lagos city's high society – which eventually draws to him, the attention that he meticulously and painstakingly steer clear of.

Adegbenro affects neither conceit nor a latent inclination to exploit his roots – he comes from a lineage of two prominent political traditions; his father is Chief Niyi Adegbenro and he is the grandson of late Pa Alfred Rilwane the hero-politician whose blood nurtured the oaks of freedom in contemporary Nigeria's shadowy history. It would be recalled that Pa Alfred Rewane, a strident voice in the fight against military rule and prominent chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) was assassinated in his Lagos home in 1995 by assassins suspected to be goons of the military government. Adejare's patriarchal grandfather was the late former Premier of Western Region, Alhaji Dauda Adegbenro, who also played a very prominent role in the evolution of post-independence Nigeria.

But rather than sit on the soft cushion of his roots or attempt riding to eminence on the wings of his forbears' achievements, Adegbenro chooses to chart his own path to glory and historical acclaim. To this end, he engages in daring and very ambitious pursuits in business. He started out working for John Holt and from there he moved over to Motorfone, and thereafter started his own company, 'First Planet' which engages in large scale telecoms transactions. Subsequently, Adegbenro established another company called Balmoral International Ltd with expansive stakes in international trade and with greater focus on importation of goods for trade.

Given his intimidating background, you would think Adegbenro would take more than a passing interest in Nigerian politics especially in his home states of Delta and Ogun; but he clearly isn't given to that. His seeming apathy to politics, he claims, isn't borne of fear of not being able to measure up to the attainments of his forbears. According to Adegbenro, he is not scared of stepping into the shoes of his ancestors, he simply wishes to get his own shoes and walk the tough path to glory in a size that fits.

You are from two prominent political families; in what ways has this influenced you?

My heritage has been a rudder that has guided me through life. Using the lives and achievements of grandparents as my benchmark continues to influence my personal and business life. From a very young age, I was always expected to be above-board. My actions are judged and considered always within the context of: “isn't he Pa Alfred Rewane progeny” or “Pa Adegbenro would never do such a thing!”

What is your impression about the current state of the nation?

I believe our current challenges will make us stronger. Things cannot afford to go on like this. It is insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Where do you think we got it wrong?

I will say we went wrong in our historical choice of leaders. To be fair, some seized leadership in the past, but we would be committing a serious blunder if we refuse to learn from it. It is alarming that I still see elders I knew as a boy growing up still actively running for political offices and appointments. I am 42, so that tells you how old some of them are.

Are you thinking of running for an elective post one day?

No. Not at the moment. If it is the wish of my people and God's calling later in life, then I may consider doing so. The present Nigerian political terrain is devoid of the fear of God and I fear the wrath of God. I will not dabble into anything that will comprise my religion. For instance, God commands us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Is this doctrine imbibed in Nigerian politics? Majority of our government functionaries are selfish and self-centred. Elections in Nigeria are not free and credible. I don't have a place in something that lacks credibility. Nigerian politics does not sit well with me. But, I can assure you that outside politics I have been doing my best to help humanity and I will continue to do so.

What is it that you don't like about being the late Pa Rewane's and Pa Adegbenro's grandson?

I think they left shoes almost too big to fill in today's world. The odds seem stacked up against our generation: there are more hate-filled ideologies on religion and tribal affiliations. The norm now is to tow the path of least resistance. It is hard living the ideals and values embodied in their lives today.

What should be the guiding philosophy for politics in Nigeria?

The interest and will of the people should come first. This should lead to an introspective assessment of one's motivations: is there a genuine value proposition for the people? Do I have the capacity to deliver on this value? How much of my decision is based on self-interest? If we play politics based on the rules of value proposition and not religious and ethics sentiments, we will have a vibrant political climate that is focused on giving maximum value to the people.

What is the best way to curb insurgency in Nigeria?

Deal with the root-causes of the problem, empower these youths, educate them, make them feel cared for by their government; show them that there is room for their aspirations in Nigeria.

What should be done to make the fight against insurgency more impactful?

In terms of security, they have made Boko Haram a northern problem, but it is a Nigerian problem. If you ask me where I am from, I will say I'm a Nigerian before mentioning my ethnic group. We have to address this issue as a country because it is not only northerners that are dying. We all have to come together to safe guard the unity of Nigeria. The Federal Government needs to curb the insurgency of Boko Haram. We don't expect the President to deal with the problem alone, we all have to help. If you know who Boko Haram is, expose them; let us know how we will deal with the issue.

How do you think we can put the country back on track?

It is simple. Just allow a level-playing ground for all contestants. If I was Mr. President, I would just replicate what happened on June 12, 1993. I would just provide a level-playing field for all the contestants and let the people's vote count. So, if a farmer becomes governor, everybody would know that truly people voted for him and he was not imposed on the people by godfathers. So, let us go back to the basics.

What are your expectations for Nigeria?
As far as I'm concerned, my grandfathers came before their time. Now should be their time to teach us how to be true Nigerians, who would consider God first, others second and themselves last. The politics of my two grandfathers was not based on religion or ethnicity. Nigeria was secure. You could confidently drive from Lagos to Kaduna and nothing bad will happen. All these things are still achievable. All we need is god fearing leaders. Nigerians know what is right and wrong; we just need to imbibe discipline and this involves you and I. When I was a child, children were taken to schools in vans, but now they are driven to schools in Mercedes Benz and the likes and that's part of the problem. It is absurd that some people have between 12 and 13 cars with sirens. When they are cruising on the road they cause traffic and compound the country's problem. We lack discipline, until we imbibe discipline, we won't be able to move forward. I believe the President should surround himself with people that can help him. The issue isn't the President because if another president comes in, we will still have the same problem. Everybody that owns a Nigerian passport, Christian or Muslim, should help out.

What is your assessment of Jonathan administration?

I don't know Mr. President personally, but from what I see, he inherited lots of problems that he has been trying to grapple with. Jonathan must be an extra-ordinary person to still remain focused in the face of the security challenges that can run a normal human being crazy. In the midst of all the chaos, he is still focusing on other sectors that have bearing on the lives of Nigerians.

With oil price going down, naira devaluation and other disturbing issues, how can Nigeria get out of the present state of economic quagmire?

Some of the issues you noted are global issues affecting even economies that are bigger, older and better structured than Nigeria's. Oil price slump and the resultant devaluation of the naira is a wakeup call for Nigerians to aggressively, yet sustainably, begin the process of diversifying its export income. Since oil and gas export accounts for more than 90 per cent of Nigeria's total export revenue, the value of the naira will continue to be vulnerable to the price of crude oil. There is also the global issue of an over-supply of oil to the market. But, the question is: is the extent of devaluation of the naira proportionate with the erosion in planned export income? I leave this to the economist to work out.

Nonetheless, I believe the fundamental solution will be to ramp-up our domestic production of exportable goods. Our capacity to achieve this is evident in the abundance of non-oil resources, manpower and land. This brings us to the issue of electric power supply, which is the main driver of most manufacturing and processing industries. How can goods be exported when local production costs are uncompetitive relative to other international revenues?

The CBN recently announced a string of monetary policy measures which devalued the naira, claiming that it is aimed at achieving macroeconomic stability in the nation. Whereas, in reality, the desperate actions of the Federal Government is a consequence of what book makers have since observed and called to its attention. Some of which are the government's uncontrolled spending; jacking up our debt portfolio from $3.9billion in 2007 to $9.3billion today; rapid depletion of our external reserves with $68 billion available under the Yar'adua administration to as low as $36.75 billion at the end of October 2014; misapplication of the excess crude account which stood at $470 million today and the sluggish effort of diversifying the economy. These are some of the reasons why we have found our nation sleep-walking into austerity.

Some of these embarrassing outcomes could be addressed by fine-turning our monetary policies such that while targeting currency policies speculators on the one hand, we can boost investors' confidence on the other hand to forestall dreadful capital flight. It is again imperative for the Federal Government to create a deliberate bailout intervention for small and medium-scale enterprises (SME's) whose organizations require foreign expenditure in order to ensure that the already bad unemployment rate does not worsen. We should also create an export-oriented agricultural market, which is the best way to improve productivity, strengthen farmers' income, ease rural unemployment, reduce poverty and forestall rural-urban migration.

The issue has never been that Nigeria lacks the resources to invest in its people. It problem has always been that of wealth being cornered by a small group of people in positions of authority. A culture of servitude has subsequently emerged as a way to gain crumbs off the table of men in power.

What is the way out for this quagmire? Change will not be instantaneous. Recognizing this will enable a climate for sustainable foundations from where institutional wrongs can be made right. Our politicians will need to rise above their self-interest, petty blame-games and name-calling to focus on developing and shepherding long-term programmes that will correct systemic problem that threaten our country's existence. We currently have brilliant and ambitious plans that have identified and proffered solutions to a broad range of social and developmental issues. But, the problem always has been that these solutions have become a means of amassing wealth or extending favours and considerations to political cohorts and friends.