Comrade Seyi Gambo, a former National PRO of PENGASSAN is the Convener of the Good Governance Group (3G), a newly formed group which seeks to create a healthy environment for socio-political debates. Seyi's team met with former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo in Abeokuta yesterday. Seyi and his crew had an "interview" with the former president and below is the raw transcript of what Obasanjo told Seyi and his crew: Comrade 'Seyi Gambo, Chief Obasanjo, Ireti Ojekhoa, Dele Akinsuli, Dipo Akinrinlade, Kelechi Deca, and Adegboyega Otunuga

Transcript of the interview:

 Obj: this association why don't you formalize it into an NGO? Why don't you want to do that?

Comrade Seyi Gambo: My colleague actually brought the idea that we should metamorphose into an NGO, but I wanted something like the "patriots" that was headed by late Chief FRA William's that wasn't an NGO, just Nigerians coming from all spheres of life.

Obj: Even then, for instance I have being involved in a few of this young people having right ideas and getting themselves together...there is one of the groups that call themselves "Africa 2.0" and they have national chapters, another one is called "Young Entrepreneurs " they get themselves together and their objectives are noble, but unless you have (cuts off )...well you can do a lot with loose collection of men or women but people will take you a little more seriously if you are formal and it doesn't cost you much as you can register it anywhere in the world where your operation occurs. I just feel that way, that's why I said that, but I think your objective is noble, if at your age you are not interested in how you can make things better in Nigeria or indeed in Africa then when will you develop that?  Big things start in a small way, I started with Peter Haigin, I started what is now called "Transparency International " and when we were going about it,  he convinced me and I started going round, we went all over the world he had no money I didn't have money, so one day I think it was in South Africa we didn't have money to take separate rooms, so I said Peter, "we will sleep in the same room, he said yes sir but he was being hesitant when I felt like sleeping I just entered into the room on one side of the bed I slept and told him you ate ready you can't sleep if you don't want to sleep" . Today of course I became the first advisory chairman of advisory body and he became the first chief executive, but none of us is directly involved today it's become thing that is going on on its own but achieved the purpose we wanted to achieve and I believe in terms of importance and name it's next to "Amnesty International" the other day he was telling me that "Transparency international" now has a budget of 56million Euros every year...I'm happy that I was one of the initiators, so I think that you should think about it, I'm just saying that's the way you should go but you think about it.

Cmr Seyi Gambo: Our major coming together is of democracy and we want to know the leadership challenges in Nigeria because what we decided that before we can start criticizing or giving an analytical postulation on government policy- because that's what we are actually about, that government policies from the federal, state and local government, we want to look at them and find alternatives if there are alternatives and if its is good we try and encourage them ......

Obj: Well I share the view. I have been experiencing it in many forums, writings and all sorts of authors that there is nothing wrong with Africa, there's a lot wrong with our leadership. Will you say that God has not endowed us enough? Will you? Will you say God has not given us men and women who can stand on their own any where in the world? Will you? After I left government as military head of state I realized that there are two areas of problems, one that I call problems of mistake of omission, mistake of omission is what leaders in any walks of life just didn't know any better either because of limitation of education, limitation of experience, limitation of training, limitation of knowledge...whatever. We just does not know any better, and I always illustrate this with what I did when I was military head of state , using the example of the national carrier-The Nigeria Airways-the Nigerian airways was a mess, whatever we tried to do we did not get it right, but I had the presidential pilot or the pilot of the head of state a man called Paul Taha. Paul was a first class man, decent, honest, well behaved. So one day I just got fed up with Nigerian airways so I called Paul and said "Paul want you take over running the affairs of the Nigerian airways' and Paul agreed, Paul has never run an airline before but he was a good pilot. 

Well I should have known that being a good pilot does not mean that you will be a good airline manager, So every other day I will phone him "Paul how are you getting on?" He would say he is alright, one day I phoned him and he said "Sir, I feel like committing suicide" I said,  I will pull you out rather than allow you to commit suicide, what is the matter?" And he said there's is this airline either Lufthansa or KLM, they have an expert from them who used to visit Nigerian airways for about a week, once in six months. So this man came an looked at the flight timetable that Paul had prepared, and when he looked at it he flung it, and Paul was man that he took him two nights working hard on this, and the man said it might have taken you ten nights but what I see is that you go from Lagos to Kaduna everyday on Monday you take off at 8:30, on Tuesday you take off at 7, on Wednesday you take off at 8. How much convenient would it have being for you and your customers to know that there is a flight to Kaduna everyday its is 7am daily except Sunday, simple thing! And Paul said that thing was so simple but the fact that he did not know of it that's why he felt that way" that's what I call "mistake of omission", because of limitation of experience and training, but when you know that fraud is bad and you committed it that's what i call "mistake of commission". So talking about leadership we should always know that there are mistakes of omission but more importantly what we do is the mistake of commission! That's the one that is very very depilating , very destructive ! In most cases you know it : corruption, nepotism, mediocrity they are all mistakes of commission, and lack of continuity I'll give you two examples in that case. When I was military head of state we started something we call "Operation Feed The Nation" simply to popularize agriculture and to make sure as many people participate in it, even at the back of your house you can grow vegetable, you can raise rabbit, grass cutter or poultry. When my successor came in they said they don't like this "Operation Feed The Nation" they will go for "Green Revolution" so they ended up having no revolution and nothing green. The same thing when I was leaving as the elected president I emphasize that transportation and infrastructure is a must in this country and roads cannot be the solution because of our population and the expanse of our land, we did everything same thing with power. Our successor came and said he won't continue and of course he was the one there. Somebody who was there said to be that the day he was going to cancel railway, he went to him weeping and said "look Nigeria cannot move forward without railway and you are talking about 2020". The man said to him that "look, as at today we have 7000 tankers on the road, if we are going to achieve our objective for 2020 we would need to have 70,000 tankers, which road will take them? Does he think? Do they understand it? 

No! Let me give you this example again, I have an NGO called "African Leadership Forum", some years back, in the early 1990s, my friend the was the prime minister of Singapore, so,  I called him and I said, Lee,  I have about 40 African up and coming leaders I want you to come address them under the auspices of my civil society organization the African Leadership Forum" and he said "look my friend I am sorry, you see once I go against timezone I am of no use for the next 48 to 72 hours, why don't you bring them to Singapore" and I said "where do I get the money to bring them?" So he said he would pay, and he paid under the auspices of one of their institutes and we went. And the question was "what is the magic?" By then he hasn't written his book "From 3rd World To First World" what is the magic? And he said to us "there's no magic, we got a few things right and we continued to do them right." At the conclusion I said to my brothers and sisters, the young men and women who were there that look remember "they got a few things right, and they continued to do them right! What have you got right in your own country? And if you know what you have got right have you continued to do them right?" With all due respect, in this country we got some right, even in agriculture we talking about we got "Operation Feed The Nation" right but did we continue to do them, right? We didn't. As I have said to you, we got privatization of the telecoms right, its not a fluke. We wanted auction, one, because we want money from it. Our predecessors had given one of those lines for 3million dollars, we got 185 million dollars for each and we went for three, so it wasn't a fluke, it wasn't by chance and then of course we know that the private sector is in terms of services they have objectives, they have motives: profit, and for me there is nothing wrong with making profit provided it is not a monopoly and we didn't make it a monopoly. There were three we reserved one for our own government, NITEL,  which of course was monotonous. So we taught of it, we planned it, we were one of those who pacified "Econet" as it were. He said he didn't have confidence in the thing to start with, but when the process started, there was no lobbying, the auction was absolutely transparent, he said well, look this a new thing happening in Africa. We laid down what you must do, we set up the organization to manage it, we commissioned the NCC, a friend of mine that I know to be  honest I put him in charge, I know that Hammed Jida would not fool around, he said look he will do only four years and I said just set it going. That's all, so if it was a mistake I wouldn't look for people,  new people.

Not me! Now get it right, for 20 years there was no investment in power generation, now for a country that needs to advance, this country must be adding a minimum of 10, 000 watts to its generation every year to its generation, for 20 years there was not one! So as to bridge the gap. When I was military head of state, we built Shiroro; we built Jebba, that time we didn't even need it. We planned Egbin, then for 20 years from 1979 to 1999 except that Shirroro was completed and commissioned; Ebun was completed and commissioned there was no new initiative. When I came in 1999, we have the capacity for generating about 5000, but we were generating less than 1500, not even the existing ones were managed and maintained to continue to do well. We didn't have money, and people have forgotten that when we came in 1999 the price of oil was around 8,9 dollars, so we tried the oil companies. The first one we tried was Mobil, look instead of flaring gas, go into using gas, the only company that did something was AGIP, so when we started having money we sail look what do we do, lets do the quick one of what we call ***** but what happened then was, I went to Umoku in Rivers state was using gas directly from the gas reserves instead of flaring it, they were converting it. I said this is the best thing for us, so what we have being doing in Afam and all that areas is pipe the gas, but what I saw in Umoku is not to pipe the gas but to do the generation with the gas on the spot and then use the pylon and then do the transmission. So we did 7 of those I said look, go around and find where we can do that, we found 7. We called for the bid to supply turbine; we had about 3 or 4 of them. GE gave us the best, not only would they supply, they would do the maintenance because if any of our turbines requires heavy maintenance we have to remove it and send it abroad, they said no we don't want that, and they said look the 18 we are buying and the ones we have before is enough to establish, so we went into all that and they we said we have what we call excess crude, this is when we say the benchmark for crude will be 60 dollars that's what we budget on, if we are selling at 65 dollars, that 5 dollars we are not budgeting on it we are putting aside. By that time it was about $18billion, that money is for all the 3tiers of government, we will take that money and do the project and later on it will be privatized, when it is privatized that money will go back and it will be shared out. 

That's all! But you cannot start privatization, we did the basis for privatization, the number of transmission companies which is one and should be government and we have kept to that, the number of distribution companies and I think 11, they have kept to that, the number of generating companies they have kept to that, what they haven't kept to is to do it they way we did telecommunications, then it become "who you know"and that is your failure it's not mine. Not the people the government. (When I was out of government) 

Look, if Abdulsalam deceives us, I will go back to my farm and I may say so here now, that on two occasion after I a have taken over, Abdulsalam came to me and said to me that he thank God that I came out, that if I had not come out, his own political program would have being a failure, when I did not succumb to this "Abubakar will deceive us" people came to me and said you will be the last president of Nigeria because after you there will be no Nigeria, there have being two presidents after me. So that was the situation I found in 1999 , the was $3.7billion dollars in reserve we were owing more than 35billion dollars. In fact we were spending around 3billion dollars to service our debts. By 2007 you want to know were we were? We have paid our debts, the turn turn of our debts was less than 3billion dollars, and they are debts that we owe on Kanji dam, the extension of railway to Maidiguri, this were good loans then, and then we had a reserve of over 45billion dollars, we had excess crude of over 25billion dollars. We have moved in production of cocoa from 150,000 metric tons to 400,000 and you can say that in all other commodities. Cassava we were producing 30million metric tons we got to 50 million metric tons we were the highest producers in the world! Democracy was at work and nobody was talking of leaving Nigeria, if anything the want more out of the cake, which is a good thing. Oil production we were 2.6 million and there were Agbami (deep offshore) which later produced another 500,000, so we got to 3.5 million barrels per day. Today we are probably getting into our treasuries proceeds of not more than 1.5million barrels.

No, no no! I didn't have issues, when you put it that way it annoys me; it's not a personal issue. If I had personal issue with Atiku, I wouldn't bring him out. In fairness to him he didn't say he wanted to be Vice President, he wanted to be governor, now I decided, what do I need to do? I need to have somebody who will work with me and who will learn, and we will learn together and after 8years i can say, so that there will be continuity and he would have learnt the job. I know that Atiku didn't have any experience of even running a local government. So I wanted him to come an learn. In fact he complained that I was giving him too much to do and in said "yes it's deliberate, I want you for the first them to be immersed in domestic, 2nd term to start getting out and getting yourself" so it's not an issue.

Well, it is as important as the V.P and the president making, because the truth is this, in our constitution the virtually nothing for the V.P or Deputy Governor, if you want your V.P to be attending funeral on your behalf, that's what you will give him, I wanted a V.P that will learn from me and succeed me! That's the kind of V.P I wanted. Before I picked Atiku, some people came and advised me, look take somebody who is of your age group so that he will not be digging a hole under you. I said, "no, no I want someone who will learn", but maybe they were right at the end of the day, but it's alright.

You have to learn really what leadership is all about, and that leadership is very very critical! There's no substitute for it. Don't blame the not to be blamed: the advisers, cabal or opposition, I have never seen books written to bring people down as I have seen on Obama! Only yesterday I got three all directed to pull him down, but Obama is going on, you may not agree entirely with him. In spite of the success of the Republicans in the mid term election, he decided yes immigration I would something about it, and he went on and did it. 5million people who outside have now been brought in, to me that is leadership. Yesterday he decided enough is enough on Cuba! We will normalize relations; some people criticized but is he right? For I believe, it is right! So that is all it takes, I overheard even president carter saying " this courageous, it's the right thing and all that" although I don't agree with him with the way he has gone to Lybia, because of the fallout has strenthened Boko Haram.

I am comfortable anywhere, the first thing you must learn as a leader, never have anything that you cannot defend before God and man, go and read my new book I lay it out there,the first too they want to do is to have something that they would say "Ah! Oga doesn't let this come out" No! Don't do any such, and there should be none of the people working with you that you cannot dispense with. 

We should have a law against it. Like anti-trust commission so that you can regulate it. For me, the big becoming bigger helps with economy scale, because if you are bigger the cost of production should be lower. Somebody said recently that Dangote reduced price of cement, so he was able to do that because of the economy of scale. For me I won't go against a Nigerian or an entrepreneur getting big, I will go against him being oppressive. All the billionaire today came under my watch, if Nigerians cannot be encouraged to create wealth then who will you encourage? Will you encourage "oyinbo" ? For example, one woman was abusing me, then she later started to praise me, Muazu brought her. The woman was importing 5Alive ‎, you know I banned it. Then when Funmman juice in Ibadan produced, she went to take distributorship, when coca-cola produced their own, she went to take distributorship, and then she started praising me. 

You may also like

Read Next