STATE OF THE NATION: Nigeria lacks sincere leaders — Ighodalo

Ituah Olajide Ighodalo, 60, a pastor, commentator on national issues and founder of Trinity House is passionate about Nigeria. Ighodalo, who celebrated his 60th birthday, yesterday believes that Nigeria can achieve greatness with competent, passionate, truthful and sincere leadership. In an interview with Vanguard, he spoke on the state of the nation, saying among others that Nigeria can be transformed with restructuring of policies, repositioning of ideas, and free market economy.

congratulations on your 60th birthday. How do you feel attaining 60? To be honest, physically, you do not really feel much different. I just feel like life is continuing. I feel like I am 35 in terms of my physical composure. When you think deep about it, you know that at 60, you are mature. At 60, you are no longer a small child. At 60, you have seen the prime of your youth. At 60, you have come to the age of consolidation, the age of advice, age of saying your mind, an age where you need to behave yourself very well, with dignity and respect. What is your growing up like? I grew up in a beautiful Nigeria. My parents were civil servants. My mother worked in the Western region civil service. She rose to be the first female permanent secretary in Nigeria. My father started with the Western Nigeria Development Corporation.

First of all, with Nigerian Breweries and then Western Nigeria Development Corporation. He ended up with the Mid-Western Nigeria Development Corporation and then the University of Ibadan, where he rose to be deputy bursar and acting bursar, at a time. You are a well known pastor. Suddenly, you have become an activist. What is the motivation? The truth of the matter is that I was an activist before I became a pastor. Since the 70s, to be honest, even during my secondary school days, I have always been concerned about Nigeria. I have been concerned about the development of Nigeria.

When I came back from England in 1982 and saw the state that Nigeria was in, I had a regular article in The Guardian, This week, Vanguard and Punch from time to time. I wouldn’t call myself an activist. I am somebody who is deeply interested in the development of mankind, first of all in Nigeria, Africa and the whole world. Nigeria is said to be at crossroads. How do you see the state of the nation? I think Nigeria could have done much better. I am even surprised that there is this level of development in Nigeria. I know there could be much more because we have abundant resources in this country. We have all the intellectual power. We have all the people. We have all the parameters that make a nation great.

What we have not been blessed with are outstanding, truthful, passionate and sincere leaders. Recently, you said, “we know the gate keepers. We know those holding Nigeria by the jugular.” Can you shade more light on that? This is not the time, space and forum to name and be specific. What I have decided to do with some of my friends is to go to each of these people, one by one and have conversation with them. We want to see how we can, together, restructure and reshape Nigeria. It won’t be nice to start mentioning names in a public space, but we know everybody who has been involved in the development of Nigeria in the last 60 years, those who are still alive. We know the people who have been involved in the power game in Nigeria. Some of them are serving. Some others are not serving, but they are very influential.

All we want to do is to have a conversation and say to these people, let us use our influences positively for the growth of Nigeria and less for our personal benefits. You also said that one of the problems of Nigeria is that we are not telling ourselves the truth. What is the truth? One of the challenges of Nigeria is that people do not like to be criticized. People do not want to hear you when you are trying to make a sincere comment. People take things personally all the time. I want to assure everyone that my comments are not personal.

My comments are committed to making Nigeria a great and outstanding country. If somebody is your friend and you tell him, what you are doing is not good, he takes it personally. If that person has power or influence, he uses that influence against you to protect himself. It has become a problem. However, one of the great attributes of a good leader is the ability to listen to his people, know how they feel, take criticism, good or bad. There is poverty in the land.

Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. What is the way out? There is no need for Nigeria to be poor. Nigeria has more than enough resources to cater for her citizens. We have about 33 different kinds of minerals in Nigeria, such as bitumen, gold, manganese, diamond, columbite, coal, bauxite, not to talk of agriculture, fishery, poultry, piggery, palm kernel, cashew nuts, soya bean, sesame seed, etc. Nigeria’s problem is production. We are not producing. We are not harvesting. Nigeria’s problem is that of environment. The business environment is hostile. It does not support business people. Every person keeping the gate, that is supposed to make business possible for you is either greedy or corrupt and insists on what he will get from you before doing his job. If you don’t succumb to his request, he will not allow what is a good project that should benefit the populace to go through. That is the problem we have in this country.

The environment is hostile and doesn’t allow free enterprise. People should be allowed to manufacture, to harvest what is in the ground. There is enough of intellectual capacity in this country to ensure things are done properly. With the way things are going, do you think there will be elections in 2023? I do not see the reason there shouldn’t be elections in 2023. We are looking forward to elections in 2023. I hope the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, will register as many people as are willing and able to vote in the next elections. Voters registration should begin now. The registration must not be tampered with to favour any part of the country. If INEC plays its role very well, there is no reason there wouldn’t be election in 2023. There is clamour for power shift to the South in 2023. What is your take on that? My only concern is that we want a good person to govern Nigeria. This issue of power shift is another quest for sharing natural resources. Why should power shift to the North or South? What we want is a good Nigerian that loves Nigeria to rule Nigeria. The person can come from anywhere, so long as he is a competent Nigerian and is able to love and rule Nigeria well for the benefit of Nigerians. If people say they want power to shift to one part of Nigeria, it means they are complaining that it seems as though when there is power in a particular area, most of the resources go to that area. Most of the people benefiting from that government are people from that area.

This is a commentary on nepotism in Nigeria. If you have a good leader, who is fair to every part of the country and ensures that every part of the country is able to develop its own resources, at its own pace, I do not care who the president of Nigeria is. I just want a good and competent person. We need a leader that loves every part of Nigeria. Have you heard in the US that power is shifting from California to Florida or Texas? Nigeria needs a leader who is competent, hard working, truthful and God-fearing. What is your take on the issue of insecurity in the country? It is all part of the same issues. We are not sincere at all. We are begging the question. Some people are playing politics with it.

There is no reason why there should be insecurity in Nigeria. We have good armed forces that should be well equipped, that should lead us in the area of safety. People are playing politics with all these things. Some people are making money from the confusion and therefore it is in their own interest that there should be insecurity. How are you getting on with life after the death of your wife? We thank God for his Grace. It’s been tough for me. It’s like half of my body is literally gone, but God has been gracious to me. I have received help and support from different kinds of people. I am taking life, one at a time. You were an Area pastor in the Redeemed Church of God before you left. How is your relationship with Pastor Adeboye, the General Overseer like? I was a senior and well recognized pastor in the church, as well as head of protocol and international travel. Till now, we are very close. Just yesterday, he called me, to wish me well on my birthday. He is my friend. We get on very well. We talk about national issues. There was no time I needed his support that he has not provided it.

There was no time I felt I needed to tell him something, that he did not open his doors to me. I have no issues with him. I did not take what happened to me personally. I took it as the will of God. Where do you want to see Nigeria in the next 10 to 20 years? I think if we allow Nigeria to develop, with the right kind of leadership, with sincerity, a lot more people who are competent, in 20 years time, Nigeria can be better than Dubai. It took Dubai about 40 years to get to where they are, with very little resources, just brain and intelligence. Nigeria has people with brain, intelligence, phenomenal resources. We can leapfrog and get to where we should be, especially with the young ones doing very well in IT, especially with the digital age. With sincerity, restructuring of policies, repositioning of ideas, freeing of the economy, developing what we have, Nigeria can be truly transformed.

Finally, at the beginning of this interview, you said at 60, you feel mature. What are those things you were doing when you were young, that you cannot do now? There are two things I will say here. When I was young, Nigeria was very safe and free. I could go from Lagos to Benin, Port Harcourt or Ibadan, at any time of the day. Now, to even move around Lagos, if you don’t have some kind of escort, you will be afraid. Personally, I miss that freedom that we used to enjoy in Nigeria. When I was younger, I used to go to parties a lot. I used to arrange parties a lot. I was the toast of the town, disco here and there. I did that consistently till when I was 30. At 31, I became born-again.

It was not even growing old that forced me to change. Meeting Jesus Christ and being born again changed my life. I suddenly realized that one can have a social life but not an irresponsible social life. In Christianity, I still have a social life, but not an irresponsible social life like philandering, going after women, having no regard or respect for anybody. One can still have social engagements, go to dinners, go to social occasions, but you behave yourself. Do not overdo anything. However, as one grows older, there is a level of comportment that goes with it. I am still a freeman. I go to market, I go to bus stop. I go to Ajegunle, Iyana Ipaja. I go to any part of Nigeria. I mingle with people. A lot of the area boys are my friends. If I go to Campos now, you see them hailing me. I eat with them, chat with them.

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