NIGERIA @60: UNLESS AND UNTIL OUR LEADERS GET IT RIGHT, THERE WILL CONTINUE TO BE PROBLEMS
Otunba (Dr) Tunde Monehin is the Permanent Secretary of the Ondo State Local Government Staff Loans Board. He is a leader with a lot of hopes for Nigeria. An interview with him is a delight for the newsman. In this piece, the former National Caretaker Chairman of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) and author of several books talks to IBIKUNLE IKUYINMINU, Managing Editor, on the vision and mission of Nigerias founding fathers, problem of leadership, the mess in public service especially at the grassroot level, Ondo Gubernatorial election, and other topical issues.
The starting point for this interview is to ask you to tell us a little about yourself for the benefit of some of our readers who may not be too familiar with you.
Thank you. I remain Dr. Tunde Monehin. Having acquired my first degree from the University of Ibadan where I studied Economics and graduated in 1984, I joined the Ondo State Local Government Services in 1987. And as a result of my love for in-service training, I acquired a Master Degree in Public Administration in 1992. I acquired another Master Degree in Local Government Studies in 2004. I also obtained a Master of Science Degree in Public Administration in 2010. And I have a PhD, specializing in Local Government and Decentralization in 2014. In the course of my job, I have worked in almost all the local governments in Ondo State, working as High Executive Officer, to become a Senior Executive Officer, and later to Administrative Officer, and as Principal Administrative Officer, and to rise through to Secretary to the Local Government/ Director of Local Government Administration. I was appointed Secretary to the Local Government in December 1996, and that was where I was till July 2019 when Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu appointed me as a Permanent Secretary. Today, I am the Permanent Secretary of the Ondo State Local Government Staff Loans Board. I have been involved in a number of activism. For instance, I was Trustee of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) between 1997 and 2000, while I held a two-term -eight -years in all tenure as State President of the union. That was between July 2000 and July 2008. I also served as the National Caretaker Chairman of NULGE, and under my watch, a new constitution was made for the union in 2006. I am a member of the International Lions Club, a double Chieftaincy title holder of Ore and Ikare Lands, a Jerusalem Pilgrim (JP), a member of the Nigeria Institute of Management, and Fellow of the Chattered Institute of Local Government. I am also an author as I have published several books namely Rudiments, Principles and Practice of Local Government Administration in Nigeria (2015), Introduction to Management (2016), and A-Z of Research Methodology (also in 2016). Rudiments, Principles and Practice of Local Government Administration in Nigeria is a book that explains in one swoop the nitty-gritty of local government administration. Introduction to Management covers the latest revised core management syllabus for first degree courses in management studies, public administration, local government studies, political science and all other social science and sociology courses. On its own part, A-Z of Research Methodology covers the general principles of research methodology that are applicable to any discipline. And currently, I am working on a book I call Local Government and Elite Conspiracy in Nigeria.
That will be great sir. But as a senior civil servant who would soon bow out of service, what was the motivation for a doctorate in the first place, knowing fully well that it does not directly affect your emoluments?
Thank you so much. You see, you can never have enough of education. And what really spurred me was that the local government service that I found myself in, I discovered that it is a system that is being miscued in terms of management, in terms of relationship, top government officials, usually at federal, at state levels, at the local government levels, even the thinking of the general people, they are not getting things right. So I say what is the problem of our people? And that was what really spurred me to say I want to go into the rudiments of this current book I am writing. Academically, and like I said, the outcome of it is this current book that I want to publish. I call it Local Government and Elite Conspiracy in Nigeria: A National Perspective. How did this one happen? I was invited to deliver a lecture at the Ibadan School of Governance by one Professor Adeyeye. The speakers before me, Professors who are well read, the way they talked about local government, when I heard the flaws, I now told myself that look, whether you like it or not, I have a doctorate from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. And you cannot say that that is not a well grounded University, that the impression you are creating about local government administration is amazing. It was that one that propelled me to say I want to write a book for national consumption as I understand many of the elites dont understand much about local government administration. I now say Local Government and Elite Conspiracy. Im sure that within the next two months, the book will be out. Im working on the bibliography. I will give it the necessary publicity so that people can actually know what is happening at the third tier of government. So it was out of my desire to broaden my academic horizon that I went for a doctorate. And in anyway, when I retire from the civil service, I will still be in the lecturing job so as to impact the practical knowledge I have. Definitely, you can be sure that I will be part of the political process of this state.
Looking at the Nigeria of today and its numerous challenges, will it be apt to say that this is the same Nigeria that our founding fathers who fought very hard for her independence in 1960 dreamt of?
Well, the question you have asked me, we can approach it from two angles, from the political angle and from the academic angle. And I must tell you that practically the Nigeria of today is not the same Nigeria that our fathers, our predators in governance dreamt of. Im talking of the Awolowos, the Ahmadu Bellos, the Azikiwes. This was not their dream. Their own idea was that we should have a country where the component parts must be able to develop at their own pace without necessarily bringing back the hands of progress in some others. That is why federalism was what was being practiced in such a way that, I mean what federalism entails is that the component parts must be able to develop at their own pace. You know, but the kind of federalism we have in Nigeria is, I dont know, is strange in all sense of it. Recall what happened in the olden days when this country came together. Awolowo had several projects that he was doing before, several of them, the cocoa hall, cocoa pyramid.
At least when you train your child in the university, you can be sure that there will be a tomorrow. But that one has now become a thing of the past.
What he was doing was community job. Several of our roads, all major roads were tarred then. All over, the Western Region was tarred. Then go to the east, they had their own peculiarities too. You know, they were developing at their own pace whereby the strongest person becomes King in that place. And they were enlightened. It was this enlightenment that led to the Aba Riot sometimes by women, claiming their lives. Then in the North, the North believed in the feudal system. They believed in the authority, you know, the religious authority. That was what they believed in. and whatever happens, there was still this groundnut pyramid. Every section of the country was developing at its own pace until the creation of the country, first into 12 states and later 19 states and before you get to the present state, it has come to 36 states. Remember that at that time, when you leave school, I remember when I left the university in 1984, I was looking for jobs. I had so many offers. I had offers in the UBA, I had offer at the Federal Ministry of Labour. I also had one in the Local Government Services and I said this one that is available at the local government services, let me go for it. And here I am today. So I must say that in terms of economics, in terms of development, in terms of agriculture, in terms of industrialization, what we have is not the dream of our founding fathers. Even when you are going to the university, there were students that were already given employment before leaving the university. There was employment everywhere. At least, when you train your child in the university, you can be sure that there will be a tomorrow. But that one has now become a thing of the past. We have a situation now where graduates are given menial jobs ,I dont know how to call the type of job.
. (Cuts in) Underemployed
Yes, underemployed. Its just unfortunate. They are not even employed.
Let us talk about the religious and ethnic dichotomy between the North and the South. Was this part of the dream of our founding fathers?
There has always been religious dichotomy between the North and the South. At that time, thats why I said the Northern region had a feudal system whereby they give authority to their religious leaders who control them. And whether anybody likes it or not, they were able to have a decent society. Look at the extreme. Lets take two countries. Lets look at Saudi Arabia. Its predominantly, Im not sure its up to1% or 2% that are Christians in that place. All of them are Moslems. But can you say that that community is not developed? The answer is NO. Look at Israel. Israel that was in the desert where they practice Christianity. Can you say that the country is not developed? The answer is NO. So we that are combining both of them, both Christianity and Islam, we should have used it to our advantage. We should have access to being able to have things from Israel and what have you, to also have access to being able to have things from Saudi Arabia. So tap from these resources, and then combine it to ensure that our country has the necessary growth and development, but unfortunately, it is the leavers that have this problem. There is this ethnocentric notion that when people get to positions of authority, they are only concerned about empowering members of their immediate family. And it shouldnt be like that. In those days, people were rewarded based on merit, based on several other factors that benefit the society. And when you see countries that have developed very well, take for example, look at Dubai that our people go to here and there. It wasnt a country that had developed until the right leadership. So what we need right now in Nigeria is the right leadership. The truth of the matter is that even when we have the right leaders that know what to do and how to do them, you will always have sycophants who surround them and who will advise them because of their selfish interest. Its very unfortunate. The dichotomy has always been there and the thing is now being taken to another level that one cant just imagine.
When it comes to power agitation, Nigeria seems not to be united. Presently, the North is occupying the seat of the President and some elements in the same North are clamoring for this same seat in 2023. In your own view, will this not over-heat the polity?
Surely. Somebody once said that life is Turn by Turn Nigeria Limited. Ordinarily, although there are some people who argue that leadership should not be based on sentiments, that we should allow the best people to emerge to govern. But the experiences of the past have created room for this agitation. If for instance, somebody comes from the North, and he does things well the way things should be done, nobody will be agitating that it should go to the North or South, but the way things are now is such that people feel that it is only when someone from a particular zone comes to government that people from that zone should benefit. It shouldnt be. But that is the situation we find ourselves in this country. And you know that countries develop the way they are. So the developments of a country the way they are, especially in this situation where zonal arrangements are made for the purpose of ascension to positions of authority. So, I want to say that in Nigeria, it has always been an unwritten rule that the Presidency should rotate, so that everybody can have a fair share, a sense of belonging in the system. And come to think of it, if two of us are from the same parents, or three of us are from the same parents, and whether you are the first child or not, if one has authority on our joint ownership more than the others, you are sure it will lead to agitation and all what have you. So, thats the truth of the matter.
Many countries that got independence about the same time with Nigeria have developed. Look at countries like Malaysia, for instance, used to take Palm Oil fruits from Nigeria, but today, it is the largest producer of palm oil. Dont you sense something is wrong with us as a nation?
Thats the situation. And let me tell you, it is the followership that also determines the leadership. Once you get to a position of authority in Nigeria, you begin to see people coming from your lineage and say this is our turn, let us allow things to be done this or that way. That has been the problem in the country. So all these countries you see that have advanced in technology, in industrialization, in agriculture, whatever or wherever they are, it is because of the attitude of the leadership. You know, the attitude of the people towards the leadership and because of the fact that we dont have the right leadership. Look at President Buhari for instance. By all standards, the man is incorruptible. But the people that surround him are a kind of different characters entirely. Himself, everybody knows that he is incorruptible, from his utterances, from his actions; you know this man means well for this country. But hes not going to run the government alone. The country will be run collectively by people. He cannot be President and be Minister and be Special Adviser and all what have you. And if you look at this issue of leadership, look at the Nigerian man that was re-elected as President of the World Bank, Dr. Adesina. He was doing very well in Nigeria as Minister of Agriculture. Today, you remember that even before they re-elected him, there was a probe into his activities, and there was no single thing found against him\. And you know the way they do their probe in Nigeria is different from how they do it elsewhere.
Ive said that the problem we have is leadership. Leadership in the sense that if we have the right leaders in positions of authority, those leaders will be able to aspire. They will be able to bring together, they will be able to harness the resources of our nation for the collective good of the nation.
Once you go and see them at home, thats the end. But the international community will do a thorough probe. But they found nothing incriminating against him. They could not find anything against him. So it means he has gone to that level to provide the right leadership. So the problem we have in this country is leadership. Unless and until our leaders get it right, there will continue to be problems. And in situations where even the leaders get it right, the followers tend to disagree with them because of what they think they are going to eat. Most countries of the world think about tomorrow. They think about what will happen to their great grandchildren, their great, great grandchildren. And that is the driving motive. But in Nigeria, our driving motive is me and my immediate family. And thats why well continue to have problems. And until we have divine intervention that will change this country, change the lapses and the way we behave, things will continue to be the way they are.
Back home, the Akeredolu Administration in the state is almost running out its four- year term. How will you objectively assess the performances of the governor these last three and half years or so?
When you want to assess the performance of someone, you place it viz-a-viz the funds, the amount of money placed at his disposal. It is the funds that he has that will enable him to perform. Im a top government official and I must say it that Akeredolu has performed fairly in the sense that the funds that have been available to the state, it is the quantum of funds available, it is not comparable to what the state has had in the past. You should know that what happens in the state, once the allocation comes, and salaries are paid, you know Ondo State is a Civil Service state until now that they are making genuine efforts to develop Ore, the Southern Senatorial District for industrial take off. Ondo State is a salary state So whatever comes, once you pay it to the workers, the workers in turn take these funds to the market and, you know, that is where you have the circulation. So what I see as a top bureaucrat is that the fund that comes to this state by way of allocation is not comparable to what he pays as salaries. So it is through the IGR and little interventions that he has that hes been able to fund the capital projects that he executed. Look at the area of education, Akeredolu has been able to renovate a lot of primary schools that have been dilapidated, you know, in this state. He says he doesnt believe in bring your facilities, I mean, to him, people should be able to get to their schools within a reasonable time. He has renovated a number of schools. Look at the roads. You will agree with me that gradually, Akure is now turning into a stage where you can call it a state capital. If you go to Ikare, look at the Oke Alabojuto that used to kill several people in that place. He has done it. Im sure jobs are about to commence on Awara Dam. I was there, though at the local government. I have served in nearly all the local governments in this state. So I know what I am talking about. And when you go to the Sothern Senatorial District, 3 things have always been identified. The Ore Overhead Bridge, he did it within the first 4 years in office. Look at the road linking Irele and Ese-Odo to Okitipupa and Ilaje, Former Governor Agagu was about to complete the road, but could not finish it before he left as Governor. He had a stress of 1.4 km. there were some people that came to this state for 8 years and they did not do it. And Akeredolu was there for 4 years. And I can talk authoritatively on this one because about 3 or 4 years ago, my station was Irele Local Government where I was serving as the Director of Local Government. I was living in Irele and I found out that to get to Okitipupa from Irele through that road, youll spend less than 10 minutes. But if you want to pass through Ore, youll spend 40 minutes. Look at the number of accidents. This man was able to complete it. Look at the Southern Senatorial District, it was about the only one without a university before Late Dr. Segun Agagu came on board, despite the fact that it is the economic mainstay of the state. The one that was created by Olusegun Agagu was abandoned before Akeredolu came on board and renovated the place. Look at the seaport project that is being done. He said it takes a lot of process. Fortunately, I was a member of the team, the 21-Member team appointed by Akeredolu when he was about to come on board. So I know the intricacies of what happens in this state. I know the seaport. Long time ago, the thing would have been completed through the intervention of Aliko Dangote or what have you, but he was forced out of the place. Akeredolu is making efforts now because we heard that the deepest part of the ocean is in Ondo State. So, hes making efforts to do it now. There is a bye-pass road he;s doing, you know, that links Okitipupa and what have you to all these areas. There is a project hes doing that links Okitipupa to Lagos, 40 45 minutes, you are in Lagos. I would have expected that to compare the quantum of funds that were available in this state viz-a-viz the performances of Akeredolu, if we want to be fair to that man, I will say that the man has done well.
But what is your take on the controversial 10 year old secret account operated by the state government that was discovered recently?
Well, what I know is that governance is a continuum. What happens is that ordinarily when a government takes over from another one, if there are accounts, it is for you to declare those accounts. And like I told you, I was a member of the Akeredolu Transition Committee, that was the transition from Dr. Segun Mimiko to Arakunrin Akeredolu. And we were the ones in charge of taking all the assets and liabilities of this state. There was never a time that such accounts were ever disclosed to us. So you cannot really blame the government on this. And in any way, the government is there, I do not want to believe the account is secret in the sense that it should have been the duty of the auditor general of the state to fish out those things and make them open. It shows the competence of the auditor general of the state. He has made it open to the government and the thing has been taken to the House of Assembly whose members are deliberating on the report. And I have not seen a report where somebody was condemned on this fund. The money is there, it has been discovered, and Im sure whatever usage it has been put, it is for the development of Ondo State. So you cannot blame someone that is just coming from outside that he should know where the accounts of the local government or the state are. It is the people that are inside that should tell him. That is why you have auditor generals and that is why you have their tenures not been fixed, their tenure is legal. So, if they have issues, they are the watch-dog of the government for the people. If there exist such issues, they are the one supposed to raise it. And I thank God for the life of the auditor general who raised this issue and made it come to limelight.
.It is common knowledge that public office holders regard public office as an avenue for living without work, to borrow one of Lincolns famous dicta, and for living a life of dissolute ease and pleasure. There is no sense of discipline and urgency anywhere, nor is there any of that superlative devotion and industry, and of that high but controlled spirit which are habitually displaced by those who are honourable and public- spirited enough to appreciate that their reputation, honour and the future are bound by their performances of their specified state functions. As a senior Civil Servant in the state, how prepared are you to change this tempo?
Well, like I said, it is the followership that determines the leadership. There are situations whereby leaders want to be firm, they want to be objective in the way they distribute resources and the followers say no. Look at the example of Akeredolu when he came to this state, forget that Im a top bureaucrat in the state, and I know what is happening. When he came to this state, the major problem he has is that hes not a politician. He says things the way he sees them and people are not happy with them. I told you that several of the funds that comes to this state, he makes sure that those funds go on payment of salaries, thereby to do some other things becomes a problem. This is the cause of his own problem. So like I said, it is the society that dictates what happens in the government. And I always say something. There are situations I have had when I was a practitioner in the local government. People say in the local government, they are very corrupt, this and that. Im taking that one as an example.. I now say that from my own experience, I have seen from those at the local government level, that whatever they say, Ive never seen a local government chairman or practioner that comes out of the local government, the maximum you give him is 3 years before he is down. He will be down. The reason for that one is that at the third tier of government, everyone knows your background. So if the way you enrich yourself while in office is very high, they will tell you your story, your background, where you are from. And coupled with the material tendencies, it will fizzle out. So, the problem we really have, I must say it, is the followership. And we know that may be with the recent development in the country where emphasis is laid on religion, may be over time, when somebody is made to realize that when he dies, it is liabilities that he leaves behind, you know we came to the world with nothing. Ive never seen anyone who dies and goes away with any of his belongings. As long as that one continues to come into the focus of the people, there will continue to be adjustments. Let me tell you, the ways things are going in this country cannot continue. I have a lot of hopes for this country. If this goes, that one comes, the human process has a way of revolving. They have a way of correcting whatever mistakes that has been made. There was a time we had a military administration in this country. You know, when the Murtala/Idiagbon regime came on board, and was about to do things right, you saw the way the people reacted when they started doing things right. It is the type of government we have here that they had in Ghana. If you look at Ghana now, youll see that the way they do things is better than what obtains in Nigeria, because of the experience they have had. I believe that a time will come in this country when the right leadership will come and it will take Nigeria to the level of greatness we desire. But let me re-emphasise that it is the people that determine the level of leadership that they want.. Look at the recent election in Edo State, the people came out largely to exercise their rights. It will be a thing that will happen throughout the whole of this country. I have a lot of hopes for this country and I know that the country will move forward.
On a final note sir, your message, first to Nigerians, as the 60th independence anniversary is approaching, and secondly, to the good people of Ondo State as the 2020 gubernatorial election is around the corner?
Well, to Nigerians, I will say, as far as Im concerned, I will say that this country is a country with a very great potentials. It has very great potentials.
And the problem that we have is that we are emphasizing too much on our diversities. And those diversities are those things that other countries emphasize on that makes them great. Look at the United States, for instance, it is their diversities they emphasize that make them the great nation they are today.
What we should do as a country is that we must have hope in the system. We must have hope in the country. We must not corrupt our leaders. Because it is the people that are corrupting the leaders by their level of demand. If you become Chairman of a Local Government, if you become a Commissioner and you come home and you are not living higher than the way you used to live, the people will condemn you. It shouldnt be. So, Im talking to Nigerians that we have to change our orientations, we have to change the orientation. We have to change the orientation that anybody that has aspired to an office that should be the end of poverty in his life. No, it shouldnt be like that. We should allow people who get to office to regard public office as public trust and use it to the benefit of majority of the people at that level. Then, for the gubernatorial election in Ondo State, I want to appeal to our people that we must ensure that we dont make it a do-or-die affair. The experience of 1983 still lingers in our memories. We must not allow it to happen. You want to serve people, it cannot be by force. If you want to serve people, tell the people what you want to do for them, let the people assess you, having assessed you, let them now take decisions that this is what we want. And in any way, there is another 4 years where people will be able to say that, well, if you dont do well, theyll be able to change the person. There will always be ballot every 4 years. So, I want to appeal to our people in Ondo State that they must not make it a do-or-die affair, that its either I become Governor or not. Sell your manifesto to the people. Let the people take decisions. And when they take decision, you take it in the spirit of sportsmanship.
We want to appreciate you for this very warm interview sir.
My pleasure, Kunle.