Mr Rotimi Adebari is the first black African Mayor in Ireland. Adebari was elected in 2007 as the Comhairle Chontae Laois County Council. Adebari was a guest speaker at the Ogun Day celebration held recently in Abuja. In this interview the council man posits that it is imperative for Nigeria to convene a national conference to address the multifarious problems that have so far besieged the country. Excerpts
What brought you to Nigeria?
I came into the country to deliver a lecture. I was invited as a guest speaker on infrastructure and development in Ogun State as an opportunity for investors.
What is your assessment of the state of infrastructure in Nigeria?
Nigeria is far behind compared to where I am involved in governance in the Republic of Ireland. Infrastructure here has been neglected for a long time. But I have to say that we all grew up to see infrastructure in place in the country but right before our eyes, we discovered that due to lack of maintenance, the infrastructure began to loose their importance as they were not being maintained. And then, the roads that were good before became death traps for our travelers.
The institutions like the hospitals that were meant to be places where people are looked after, became a shadow of what it used to be. And the same thing happened with our educational institutions.
We still have a long way to go but I have to say though, that some states are making efforts, there is no doubt about that and that is one of the things I have come to talk about.
It is happening but it ought to happen on a larger scale because that is the only way that we can attract investors, that is the only way our local investors can get their businesses off the ground.
What steps did you take to improve on the infrastructure in your council after you were elected?
When we are talking of infrastructure in a country, it does not come cheap, it is expensive. When you are talking of cost like that, it might be difficult for governnet on its own to bear that cost.
So, what we do over there for instance is what we call the Public Private Partnership, PPP. The governnet enters into partnership with private institutions. They provide infrastructure that government is unable to provide and what that means is that such infrastructure will be in the care of the private investors for a number of years before it reverts to the state.
But the important thing is that, that infrastructure is out there for the people. We built some schools in Ireland though the PPP. Some roads were constructed using the PPP as well and that is one thing I think Nigeria should be looking into, they should partner with the private sector. One good thing about the private sector is that they minimize waste.
It is alleged that the decay in infrastructure is attributable to corruption? Do you hold this view?
There is no doubt about that. We all know that one problem that Nigeria and a lot of African countries are battling with is corruption. Corruption has caused us a lot in this country because what you discover is that project costs have been inflated and when such happens, that is not good for the nation. At some point, I think we were getting it right in this country but just suddenly, things began to nose dive. What do you think is responsible for that?
What is responsible for that is greed. The greed in our people these days is unbelievable, it is all about money and what people can get from any situation they find themselves in. It is no longer about service to the people. The leaders we had in the past were purposeful for this country.
They were ready to work for this country, they were ready to serve this country. It was not about making money but these days, people go into governance, and it is all about what they can get from the government they are going into. It is sad that we have lost our value system.
Going into governance is not about what you can make out of it, it is all about what you can give to the people.
You cannot exonerate the leaders. When you have good leaders, you will definitely have good followers. If you have bad followers, you will end up having bad leaders, but not until,we are able to get the leadership right.
We the followers also need to be alert to our responsibility as well. It is the leadership that provides the way forward for a nation and when you do not get that leadership right, that nation has a long way to go. People will just be moving around in circles.
I am sure you are aware of the proposed national conference, would you say it is a step in the right direction of addressing the leadership question?
I think it is a step in the right direction. There are so many thoughts over this, some are thinking the time is not right. Some are of the opinion that it should not happen at all but I think it is very important.
Look at all that is going on in the country, we will be deceiving ourselves if we say things are going well. Things are not really working as they should be and when things are not working as they should be working, the ideal thing is to go back to the drawing board. The ideal thing is for us to call ourselves round a table.
I think as a country, it is high time we do that. There have been a lot of problems in the country because if we do not discuss it and we sweep it under the carpet, we are not helping the situation. So, I think it is a good decision and in the right direction.
We can strengthen our relationship if we stay together. I love to see this country stay together as one but then, we have got to get things right. If this has to be so, one of the things they should talk about is the federalism we are practising.
At the moment, the federalism we are practising is too centre concentrated. All these need to be addressed. And again, we are not practising true federalism but ideally, if we are practising true federalism, we will know that states develop at their pace.
There is no reason why we cannot develop at our pace in this country. It is either we do it as a region or a state basis, so be it but all these can be discussed at the meeting. A conference like this, will afford Nigerians to sit and restructure the country and put it in the right path.