By Jide Jegede
Notwithstanding his many enviable feats contained in the loud governorship campaign billboards conspicuously placed in strategic positions across the state, many youngsters would still want to ask ‘who exactly is Dr. Akin Onigbinde’. Their curiosity may not be out of place. Since the beginning of the current political dispensation in May 1999, little was heard of the erudite scholar and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). Though brief, the most advertised part of Dr. Onigbinde’s trajectory was his time as the Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, where he made his mark as an effective and efficient leader, even as a young lad then. Sadly, the House could not run its full term as the then Military President Ibrahim Babangida truncated what would have remained a shiny legacy of his regime. The annulment of Nigeria’s fairest, freest and most credible election held on June 12, 1993, and won by Chief M.K.O. Abiola, as well as his decision to ‘step aside’ in reaction to the heat generated by the misstep, halted the democratic process his government began.
Dr. Onigbinde had since left the political scene. But, in this recent chat with some journalists in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, the learned silk hinted that he decided to take a break to enable him to prepare himself better before asking the people of the state to entrust him with higher responsibilities.
The break had afforded him the time to study to a Ph.D. level and had held several high profile positions in the private sector. It was within the period that he also got appointed to the rank of a SAN, the zenith of legal practice in Nigeria.
He is currently seeking the ticket of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to contest as the governor of Oyo State in the 2019 elections. The interview touches on a wide range of issues critical to the development of the state, the Nigerian nation, and the citizenry.
Below are the excerpts:
Who is Akin Onigbinde
I intend to bring to you a summary of whom I am because many times, journalists are being asked to sell products that they neither know nor understand. I don’t think that is fair on the part of the journalist or the society itself.
My training started with the humanities. Initially, it was in the English Language where I did two degrees- BA and MA- at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife). I then read Law. Before I contested election into the Oyo State House of Assembly, I went to the University of Ibadan for an MSc in International Relations. My thinking was that people should be prepared for whatever they want to do. By the time I was finishing the programme, I was already the Speaker of the House. I then applied for a Ph.D. and I started attending lectures and seminars towards my doctoral degree. I had an opportunity to be a teacher. I taught in secondary schools, College of Education, Ilesha, University of Ife and recently at Bowen University, Iwo.
When National Bank had a problem and it went under, the late Chief Bola Ige decide to resuscitate it and they headhunted a number of Yoruba professionals. Mr. Olagundoye, who was the Managing Director of Chartered Bank that time, was headhunted to become the Managing Director of National Bank. I was asked to leave my practice in Ibadan to come and be the Legal Adviser and the Company Secretary because there were too many cases hanging on the neck of the bank. It was painful for me because I didn’t want to leave my practice. I knew it would set me back on my professional accomplishment. But I had to make that sacrifice. I joined National Bank and resolved all the legal tangos. Later, Econet Wireless came, and they were looking for lawyers to start the GSM technology in Nigeria. I bought into it too.
The relevance of all this is that I have been a teacher; I have been a banker, and I have worked in the telecoms industry. The experiences which one gathers along the line cultivates one’s intellect and competence.
My development strategy
What I see every day in Oyo State are sources of good business which the state can tap into to turn things around.
I will not be able to say everything now, but I just want to give two examples. I believe that the people of Oyo State, the Yoruba people that I know in this state, are people with honour. In other words, until recently that things nosedived, you won’t find a Yoruba man that begs. They will rather engage in menial jobs. Many of you have stories of the sacrifices your mothers made to send you to school. Presently our mothers and sister will take loans with very terrible conditions, just to survive. I believe in the cooperative system which was used in the past. I am going to work very hard to make it an instrument of economic empowerment. I am not going to buy motorcycles or pepper grinding machines for people. We will organise things along trade lines. As far back as the time of Rome, people were classified on the account of their trade. When you work on the street, people can tell what your trade is. A cobbler would say he is a cobbler because he is proud of making shoes. If we organise things along trades line, it will be easy to reach everybody. People on the same trade know each other. They won’t run away after collecting loan meant to grow their business. There have to be structures.
On the youth
I recently presented a paper at a function organised by the Federation of Oyo State Students Unions (FOSSU) where we addressed comprehensively the issues pertaining to the youth in Nigeria. I made it clear that really need to properly interrogate the whole idea of ‘youth must run’. When people are talking about the youth, they should not forget that governance is about responsibility. Therefore, there are critical issues that are very important in governance. One, you must have knowledge. If you don’t have knowledge of the job you are asking for, you cannot perform well. You must have the relevant experience; you must have integrity, and you must be trustworthy. We still have good people in our society. We will have to do the work of getting out those people and pushing them forward. We talk about the youth, but we must know that there are youths and there are youths. How do we classify those who spend their time watching the Big Brother Naija and the likes? You glue yourself to the television set, watching some people sleeping and waking up; playing and eating, you did that throughout the night. Do you realise that the most valuable thing that you have is your time? You want to achieve the same thing as Barack Obama, but you will spend your time on Facebook and Instagram. It is not that you are selling something on Instagram. You are posting the pictures of the food you ate yesterday and the dress you wore for your birthday party. That is what you are doing on Instagram, and you say because you belong to a particular age bracket, we should hand over governance of the state to you. It will never work that way. Youth gives you energy, it is for you to transmit that energy into capacity that will enable you to lead. It is not just a question of age. It is also a question of developing yourself to the point of getting ready to take up responsibilities. It is not a question of age. It is a question of capacity. What have you done with yourself? That is what youths should pay attention to. The fact that you are youth does not automatically confer on you the right to lead. If you are competent. if you can show that you have what it takes to take up higher responsibilities, by all means, we will support you.
The truth of the matter is that we have become very mentally lazy. Everybody wants a fast food solution. You are not ready to do the work that gives success. The average politician in the Southwest wanted to be a member of the Action Group (AG). He believes that anybody that is in AG will win an election. He wanted to be in the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), not because he wants to do any hard work, but he wants to take advantage of the work some people have done. He wants to be in the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He wants to be in AD. But the truth of the matter is that some people did the hard work that created those political pedestals. What we are saying is that it may be more of hard work to create a platform in AD, but it is a surer platform.
I don’t just want to go to any party. I would have been a welcomed person in the All Progressives Congress (APC). There are many of my friends there. The difficulty I have is that APC is a bus full of people going to different destinations. Some are gentlemen; some are rogues; some are violent, and all of them are encapsulated into a single vehicle. Some of those inside that vehicle are putting engine oil inside the fuel tank; some are putting water; some are stealing the tyre. For how long will it take to get to the destination? If a political party cannot organise its own self, how would it organise the country? A man cannot give what he does not have. As far as I am concerned, for us to be able to move, we need a healthy vehicle.
If Nigerians are kind of people that ask questions, it shouldn’t be difficult for us to say these people cannot help. Go and look at what creates problems in those political parties. They don’t have to do with the welfare of you and me. They have to do with the selfish interests of those individuals. why should it be difficult for us to see that these people are not working in our interest? These are the reasons why we decide that it could be hard work getting young and educated people. At what age did I become the Speaker? Some people did that to me. Why can’t I look around for people that I can mentor too? I mean people who have the mental capability. I don’t believe it is impossible. It requires a lot of hard work. But I think there are a lot of people that are ready to join in the struggle.
Chances of AD?
If you have a Mercedes Benz filled with adi agbon instead of fuel; water in place of brake oil; one of the passengers holding a dagger and an explosive, and the vehicle is being controlled by a drunk driver. On the other hand, there is a Keke NAPEP properly fuelled with a sane man in control. No matter how long it takes, the Keke NAPEP will get to its destination. If the other vehicle is not careful, it will self-destruct because it is carrying enough explosives inside of itself. And that kind of vehicle cannot help any society.
Anybody looking at a Mercedes Benz and a Keke NAPEP will ask the question what is the chance of Keke NAPEP overtaking a Benz. But if a Mercedes Benz is debilitated; if it has enough contradiction inside itself, it is not going anywhere. With all my education, why should I put myself in that kind of vehicle? That abuses my intelligence. That is the reason why I chose AD. Hard work is the only thing that I know and I believe that what you get from hard-work lasts longer than what you get from cutting corners.
Quality journalism in a democracy
The essence of any reportage is that it should be grounded in fact and analysis. The media is the only source people believe and rely on for authentic information, and that places a huge responsibility on the journalists. That is the reason why for the good of the society, information that is going to be passed on to the people to rely on, has to pass through the test of veracity.
There is no other realm where half-truth is being passed to the society than in politics. Either when you are talking about facts or individual, you find out that the information being passed across are often unreliable. Therefore, they must be well interrogated before spreading to the public. All of us will probably remember the gentleman that was a Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1999, who had to resign because he claimed a qualification he did not possess. How did he get to pass the primary election; pass through the main election; got to the House of Representatives; and got elected as the Speaker, all on false claims? If somebody had done his investigation very well, the man couldn’t have gone that far. I want to encourage us that the media is a major stakeholder with huge responsibilities in the future of this country and there is no country that can be founded on the peddling of falsehood.
We have looked at the issue of political parties in Nigeria, and being an insider, I understand intimately the difficulties that political process takes us through. I need you, gentlemen, to take more than passing interest in what goes on in political parties. All of us agree that the way we run our politics is one of the things that spoil our morals, businesses, and makes us not to be trustworthy again. It is really dehumanizing. I was looking at a documentary recently where 19 former governors are on the list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Is that normal in any society? Is that the kind of mentoring that you want to give to the people coming behind? We really need to tackle the issue of politics. And the media has a critical role to play here.
The way political parties select candidates for elections in Nigeria poses a lot of problems for the polity. Look at the delegates system, which, unfortunately, is in the constitution of most political parties, what goes on there is pathetic. That is where good candidates are sacrificed on the altar of resources to finance the party. if the delegate system has imposed on you a bad candidate, it is important for the press to be very tenacious; to examine us who say we want public trust; to be ruthless in getting to the root of who we are, where we are coming from, what is the level of our integrity and how much trust have we been given by our societies. Unless we are ready to do this hard work as pressmen, we are not going to go far, because it is the press that sets the agenda that determines how the society is run.
Why I stayed away
One of the terrible things about the politics in Nigeria is that people think that once they have occupied a political position, they must never work with their hands again. Some only got elected as Councillors, but since then, they are not doing anything again. They want to sit down and get free money. If there is any opportunity for you to serve the people, you are there to serve. When you finish, you go back to the job you were doing. I am a lawyer. After leaving the State House of Assembly, am I supposed to be hanging around? When did I know politics will start again? Between then and now, I had worked at the National Bank as well as Anderson Consulting, among others. What is wrong with a former Speaker being a worker in the bank? I didn’t see anything wrong in that. I went to work with my hands. All of those have now galvanised into an advantage. I am a better person now. I can serve the society much better because of the experiences I have garnered. I was busy developing myself and acquiring more qualifications. And I believe that I am a better person returning to politics now than I would have been if I had come back earlier.
Lawmaking not like it was in our days
When I was made the Speaker of the House, I had made up my mind, even as young as I was at that time, that nobody was going to mess up my reputation. I have been a beneficiary of this society; this country has been good to me and so, I wasn’t going to go to any police station to answer for any crime related matter after I leave office. So, nobody could push me. And it is the kind of leadership you provide that you get. No matter how rich you are material-wise, if you are plagued with covetousness, you will never be satisfied. From the governor to the lawmakers and other political office holders, we were not greedy. The political culture we imbibed did not allow for greediness.
These days, our society has gone terribly backward. It has deteriorated and gone down several notches in terms of values. Some of the things that are taken for granted today were unimaginable when we were in the House. Therefore, it was difficult for any governor, including Governor Kolapo Ishola, who was the governor during our time, to try to pocket the legislative arm of government in his state. Governor Ishola could not take me for granted. He was old enough to be my father. He even has a son who is a lawyer and a friend of mine too. I respected him as a father, but I see myself as somebody who has a job to do. There was a time the Clerk of the House died and we needed to replace him. Rather than allow us in the House to choose, they were lobbying in the Governor’s office to impose somebody. I chose the new clerk, with the consent of all members of the House. The governor only heard about the appointment on the radio. and I saw him on the evening of that day. There was nothing he could do about it. I had the knowledge, I had the courage and I had the support of my colleagues to do the right thing. It was a different culture altogether. The way I look at the present Houses of Assembly is that it is not the fault of the lawmakers that they tend to be subservient to their governors. This society generally has deteriorated and that is the reason for the hard work all of us have to do.
Nigeria’s fight against corruption
If a man has a headache, stomachache, diabetes, leprosy, cancer and at the same time has Ebola, the kind of treatment, medication, and management that will be needed for that kind of patient is different from what is required for a man that only has a headache. The little we know about medicine makes us know that the condition of the earlier man is much more complicated than that of the other with a headache. Anybody that understands the amount of damage that corruption has done to this country will understand from a contextual standpoint that the combination of the EFCC, ICPC and CCB are not enough to solve the problem even if they are working honestly. This is because if you go to the EFCC, for instance, to report somebody that allegedly stole about N10m, they don’t take you seriously. They will say they don’t have time for that because they are dealing with a minimum of N100m and above. It is not contextually possible for only these anti-corruption bodies to solve all the problems of corruption in Nigeria. The question of corruption exists at the local government level, is the EFCC that will solve that too? There is corruption in our religious places, would the EFCC come from Abuja to address that too? I believe every state and every political unit must have its own vibrant anti-corruption mechanism to effectively tackle the menace.
We say we don’t like corruption, but we give kudos to people that corruptly enrich themselves. We give them chieftaincy titles, honour them in our churches and mosques. In our quest to curb corruption, we cannot be like the chichidodo bird that doesn’t like shit but likes maggot. We have to make up our mind on whether we want to fight corruption or we just want to pay lip service to the fight.
How to make Nigeria better
People complain the country is not running well. If the country were a company or your personal estate, and you have the kind of investment that you have in this country, will you allow it to go under? You will do everything, including bringing people that are competent in order to revive it and get it back to a profitable state. We need people with competence in management; people that understand how things work in order to be able to turn this country around.