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Governance should be more than building roads, bridges, streetlights –Osi-Samuels

In this interview, the Convener, Alliance for New Nigeria, Dr. Jay Osi-Samuels, said it was high time Nigerians stopped celebrating politicians for providing them with the basic amenities of living, among other issues

You’re a proponent of the political terminology, “technotician.” What is it all about?

Many of us in this country have always prided ourselves on our careers and personal achievements. In fact, some of us that God has blessed are our own local governments — we build our houses, install boreholes to provide us water, tar the road and so on. We do all these because the government in this country is not doing anything for us. We have lost hope and faith in the government. There are many Nigerians who are into private businesses which are thriving, everyone is focussing on doing their own thing and we have been running away from politics. Some of us believe that once we are making money and things are going fine, life goes on. However, we are all suffering. For too long, we have left politics in the hands of some people who are mishandling it and not conducting proper governance. Now, their policies or lack of them are now affecting us. That’s why the term, “technotician.” Our DNA is made up of 80 per cent technocracy and 20 per cent politics. We see that there are many things that could be done for this country due to the experiences we have gathered in the private sector. We believe that the development of this country is not rocket science. It’s what could be done. That’s why some of us have been talking about this country called Nigeria and the need for us to come out of our shells. We have to do something; we have to participate in politics. However, the political system in the country is not one you could just wake up in and say you want to participate. We found out that no one could do anything meaningful if you just join the current political structure or existing parties. In fact, I have some friends who were appointed as legislative aides or special advisers and were really determined to offer their services to the country. But after a few months of working, they resigned because they didn’t expect what they found in the system. They said they could never fit into the system. But we cannot continue to shy away from the system and for someone like me, I have come to the level that I am tired of complaining. There is something we can do about it. That’s why some of us came together and decided that the only way we can make a difference is to disrupt the current political system. We have to create a party or platform that is entirely different from what we have right now. That’s how we came up with Alliance for New Nigeria. It is all about Nigeria; in this country, we don’t have any excuses for the way we are. We have left the country in the hands of politicians for too long and it is clear they are bereft of ideas to move this country forward. Whether it is the All Progressives Congress or the Peoples Democratic Party or the All Progressives Grand Alliance, nothing is happening in this country and all the states. It is time a new movement arose that would disrupt the current political space. This is a clarion call to serve. Nigeria must be rescued.

Is this about the promotion of populism ideas or what exactly is the ideology behind the platform?

We are guided by the passion for this country. This is about Nigeria first. We believe in the egalitarian system of government with respect for social justice, human rights and equity. We want to make this country great again, to be a leading economic powerhouse in Africa and the world. We believe that to achieve this, there must be serious investments in education, technology and manpower. The proponents of this platform are professionals from every walk of life, but we are encouraging everyone to sign on. The core members are technocrats but we are ready to accept non-professionals who have same mindset as us.

Some Nigerians would easily tell you that the All Progressives Congress promoted similar ideas as yours during its electioneering and so they would be wary of a new movement like this springing up. Why didn’t you just blend with existing political parties?

Like I said before, things are so bad right now in the current political parties that you cannot just go and stick with any of them. We as a movement are very mindful of what you said and it’s a legitimate question. I believe people’s minds would only change by actions and not promises. We also know that to be successful, there is a need to keep challenging and packaging ourselves as a product people would find irresistible. Even before we get there, we want to start showing actions and not promises. You don’t need to promise heaven on earth for Nigerians to succeed in government. The threshold for success in governance in Nigeria is very low. For instance, look at [Lagos State] Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. He’s doing roads and people are celebrating him. These are basic things. Sometimes I ask myself, why should I celebrate a governor for constructing roads? It’s his job and he’s not using his personal money. It’s just unfortunate that people have low expectations from government in Nigeria. Imagine if you did beyond what people are expecting, that means they would worship you. Funds are being misapplied. If funds had been used judiciously, things would have been better in this country. And like I said, you don’t need to promise heaven on earth for people anymore, all they want to see are results.

Is all this about 2019?

Initially, it wasn’t about 2019. We were just doing our own thing and we were thinking of the long haul. But things have been working pretty fast and right now, we are not ruling out participating in the 2019 elections.

How do you then intend to pull it off against the two major parties — APC and PDP?

We don’t see them as rivals. People are getting wiser by the day and know what choice to make. Another thing is that right now, the people who have always voted are 30 per cent of the population of eligible voters. Our focus is to target the remaining 70 per cent who have never voted before, those who are dissatisfied with the current political structure. If we are able to get even half of these people, we are okay. If we can convince them to join our platform, we are cool. Let me tell you, there are members of the APC already joining our platform. Of course, they are not the core members, but those who feel that the party will not take them anywhere.

Talking about people celebrating governors for building bridges and roads, could you really blame them for doing that as they have been deprived of these basic amenities for many years?

You cannot really blame the people. When a typical politician says they want to bring change, they have nothing to offer than promising roads and bridges, but still they don’t do it. Now if you manage to do those things, people praise you. At this stage where we are, we should be thinking beyond roads and bridges. Roads are basic amenities that the government should provide. They should not even be included in any party’s manifesto. Politicians come up and say they would create jobs. We believe it’s not even the business of the government to create jobs in the first place. People have the capacity to create wealth if they can operate in an environment that enables them to do so. A case study is Lagos State. Lagos is thriving on the private sector. Let me give you an example of how the government can create an enabling environment for prosperity. For instance, the government could come up with a policy that any building that is at least two-storey tall should have the Closed-Circuit Televisions installed in them. Then the government could say whoever defaults would pay a certain fine. Did you know that the policy would have a multiplier effect on the economy? If you’re into Information Technology, you can start importing or developing CCTVs; the building owners would start looking for who will supply them; you who are supplying the CCTVs will employ people who will install them, thereby creating jobs for them; you who are developing the CCTVs locally will create more jobs; at the same time security is improved in the country. The question now is, what is stopping the government from coming up with policies such as this? Like I said before, developing this country is not rocket science. It’s what could be done.

What should be done to reorientate Nigerians to stop accepting mediocrity from politicians?

People got used to mediocrity because of the way things had been before. They celebrate the government for providing them with the basic needs of life. We have been deprived for too long and you can’t really blame people. I grew up in the military era and it was until I got to the university that I knew the difference between democratic and military rule. Then, I was getting free books, things were good. Things should be much better now, which is why it’s high time some of us came out of our shells. To successfully do that, you have to demonstrate by example when you are in government — show that you are there for the people; be transparent. Let people know that governance should be more than building roads and bridges and streetlights.

Some say the APC missed it because it failed to conduct its homework very well, so when it got into office, the party kept blaming the PDP for the country’s woes. What do you think?

Our income dropped actually, but we were still making money. But rather than move forward, the party kept focusing on blame, which showed not being ready for governance. In fact, the party now crying foul is not different from the party it took over from.

So are you ‘technoticians’ going to abandon your professions to join politics?

This is a call for action. But I must say we are not really politicians. However, I have personally signed and that I am in for the long haul. I am ready to resign from my profession and face the business of transforming the country.

But if we had ‘technoticians’ running this country, wouldn’t they formulate policies that would further their business interests since they are technocrats in the first place?

There are rules and regulations in the country which must be respected. They will be strictly adhered to. Any set of people who want to transform this country must be ready to fully respect the laws of the land and be selfless.

If your platform appeals to the people, there would probably be an influx of core politicians from other parties to your party. Would you tell them to go away since you are made up of ‘technoticians’?

That is one question that we are aware of. In fact, we have been approached by about two individuals from a well-known party and we flatly rejected them. Even though the platform is open to everybody, we have to be cautious. Be that as it may, if you are joining us, you have to key in strongly into our ideology. But if you are tainted, we would not allow you.

So how would you know someone who is tainted or someone who is clean?

An average Nigerian knows someone who is tainted.

Are you sure it’s not about mere insinuation or perception?

I’m talking of those who are controversial and those who are specialists in crisscrossing from one party to the other. We are going to be wary of such people.

Being a technocrat cum politician, would you say borrowing is right for the country?

It depends. The United States is a borrower, China is a borrower. The only difference between Nigeria and those countries is that they don’t borrow to pay salaries or throw parties. They spend their borrowings on infrastructural projects. They don’t spend on recurrent expenditure.

What is your take on the anti-corruption war so far?

The way the anti-corruption war is fought is very faulty. Corruption is deep and systemic and you can’t fight it wholly by shaming people. It should be more of preventive measures by setting up systems and putting institutions in place. Then you have to carry out researches, what are the things that are making people to be corrupt? You would go to some directors’ offices in the ministries and you would see how big and well-furnished they are. Then when you see how crammed the office of those who are doing the real job is, you would pity them. Of course, they are also poorly paid. My dad was a civil servant and all he looked forward to was to retire, not the civil servants of today. So I think it’s not about the noise that we are hearing all around, but about effective actions.The Punch

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