THE LONG WALK IN SEARCH OF AN ANSWER!
By Olubodun Adewumi.
[Being the full text presented at the press conference called by Olubodun Adewumi on Thursday, 8th of January, 2015 at the Trans Amusement Park, Bodija, Ibadan]
I have said time and time again to those who care to listen. Nigeria is incontrovertibly one of the greatest countries on the globe. One just needs to travel to any part of the world to appreciate how Nigeria is often mentioned in and amongst all different peoples of all nations; be it for negative or positive reasons. This general knowledge has given birth to the overstated mantra amongst Nigerians, “Our problem is lack of good leadership” for which many of us have relinquished the burden of the search into the hands of their gods.
It was a Nigerian leader – Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who built among other enduring infrastructures the ‘Cocoa House’. When it opened in 1965, my research shows that in the whole of Europe, there was no other building that was in any way closer in height or elegance. It was only in 1966 that a comparable building, ‘Centre Point’ was built in Tottenham Court Road in London. That building was a carbon copy of Cocoa House only that it was 33 floors.
It was the same Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who set up the first TV Station in Africa – WNTV, now NTA, four and five years before China and Malaysia, Singapore respectively. Ten years before UAE now, the newly adopted second country of our moneyed men and women. I’m sure that when our politicians go to Abu Dhabi or Dubai today, they can watch TV 24/7 un-interrupted by power outage.
These and many other pre-eminent projects were achieved by Chief Awolowo, using the proceeds from Cocoa and Palm Oil. We’ll never know how much he could have accomplished for the whole of Nigeria with oil and gas money.
Given the above, the notion that there are no more Nigerians who are capable of achieving what Papa Awolowo managed to accomplish and perhaps more, is an idea that even Papa Awo would have considered a failing on his part given the amount of time and resources he invested in our education which was meant to put some of us in the position to continue his good works where he left them.
Of course, there are still many Nigerians who are capable of taking the calculated risk to dream big and to build, to fail and to succeed. Perhaps, not all of us are well suited to the type of politics currently being practised in our country, the whole essence of which consists in the politician’s heroic struggle to keep permanent hold on the proverbial milk-bottle as a source of livelihood for himself and his family. The more his wife and children are dependent on him, the more stubbornly will he fight to maintain for himself the representation of his parliamentary constituency. For that reason, any other person who gives evidence of political capacity becomes his personal enemy. In every new movement, he will apprehend the possible beginning of his own downfall. And everyone who is a better man than himself will appear to him in the light of a menace. When such a perceived menace becomes greater enough, he jettisons the last vestiges of any leadership skill he may possess and begins to play the dangerously and murderously dirty game of politics. Sooner, he becomes one of many of his kind whose only consistency is their inconsistency, with such overbearing insolence and oftentimes an artful mendacity developed to a shamelessly high degree.
There are many other ways some of us can positively and productively contribute to the rapid development of this great country; if, and only if, the “elected” enemies of the people and their administrative lieutenants will be magnanimous enough to allow us. If, only for the sake of our future generations!
I might easily have subscribed to that extreme school of thought and believe – as many people believe, and apparently not without good reason – that the salvation of Nigeria and her people could be secured only by re-strengthening the principle of imperial authority. Those who have this belief have not adequately discerned the tendencies of their time and must be blind to the aspirations of many able Nigerians.
My education and general exposure which, I’ve acquired through extensive travels and active interactions with people of all nations; have clearly demonstrated to me that much as I fully assent to the ineluctable fact that we all now inhabit a world in which nations are duty-bound to do business and co-exist with one another on a mutually beneficial basis. Nonetheless, I’ve come to the conclusion that however well-packaged the intentions, no foreign national can ever be as genuinely committed as a true Nigerian would, to the socio-economic development of Nigeria for the sole benefit of each and every one of her citizens.
I must stress that I have never worked or earned a penny in this country. I left Nigeria just after my secondary school education.
Just a few years after I finished University in the United Kingdom, I set up my first business in London in 1993 recruiting and head-hunting specialised medical doctors and allied medical personnel for the British National Health Services (NHS) and Private Hospitals all over the UK. (It took only one week for the local authority to issue the required licence).
Anyone who has had the misfortune of travelling along the Ijebu-Ode – Ore axis of the Benin Ore express way cannot but lament the deplorable state of that section of the road. The trajectory of Nigeria’s affairs will for ever be distorted by the twist of irony. Nigeria by providence sits comfortably on the Atlantic Ocean; nature also graces this country with two major rivers, Rivers Niger and Benue. Yet, we do not have water to drink. We are one of the top world producers of oil and gas. Yet, we do not have petrol and gas to run our cars and power our generators, upon which, our demigod politicians and their cronies have condemned us all to depend, simply, because we have no gas to power our dwellings and places of work while they, of course, enjoy un-interrupted power supplies in their homes and offices. We sit on one of the largest iron ore reserves on the planet. Yet, we spend billions of dollars each year importing iron rods and beams. We have one of the best arable lands on the globe, yet we cannot feed ourselves. Little will any of the regular users of Benin-Ore road realise that two to five kilometres to the right of that section of the road when going towards Benin is situated one of the largest deposition of Bitumen in the world. USGS estimated this to be 84 billion metric tons. And this is precisely what is required to resurface this road and many other roads around the country. Roads which now can only best be described as death traps over which, nearly every Nigerian should know of one or more persons who have prematurely lost their lives.
Our country needlessly spend US$1.96 billions per year importing Bitumen, the large deposition of which lays naturally beneath the road networks (which traverse Ogun, Ondo and Edo States) This twist of irony and the associated wastages no doubt, are some of the major reasons why unfortunately, there is little or no money left for our schools, hospitals, power supplies, our security personnel and why many of our road networks across the nation are in such dreadful conditions.
Why am I saying all of these? Whereas, I could pack my luggage tomorrow and go to any of the western European countries and decide to live there happily ever after without me needing any visa to do so. The development of Nigeria is so paramount on my mind that I left all that and my business for the past four years to brave this herculean task of acquiring the exploration licence which is required to develop this bitumen deposits for the common good of our dear country. For this, I had thus far spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of my own money both in hotel bills, travels and field works. Before coming to Nigeria, I put together a consortium of veteran geologists and geophysicists with second-to-none technical and financial capabilities from the US. Our team intends to come to Nigeria with hundred percent of the project development funds to the tune of US$400 millions including US$30 millions earmarked for the local community development in line with our corporate responsibilities. We even gave the ministry our undertakings that if, five months after the licence had been issued, we had not begun visible activities on site, they should revoke the licence.
This large deposit of Bitumen was discovered by a German Geologist in 1907. Till this day, no investor had been given the opportunity to exploit the deposit for the necessary development of our road networks and other industries that depend on the bitumen by-products for their life-lines. The question many Nigerians should be asking our government is simply: Why? And whose interests are they serving? Moreover, because the exploration and development of bitumen is a very labour intensive project, our company intends to provide in excess of 3,000 employments for the teeming Nigerian youths, not to mention the multiplying effects of such massive number of employments by one company at a time when our country is crying for jobs creation.
When we first presented our proposal to the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development in 2010, the Hon. Minister, Architect Musa Mohammed Sada appeared to be very pleased and told us that we were the right people the Ministry had been looking for to develop the site. He also told us at the time, that no other licences were being considered except one in contention. The ministry told us specifically the available areas we should consider. Having paid the required application fees, we went to the site, spent a lot of money to do the geological surveys and coordinates of our preferred area. After all these were successfully submitted to the Director General of the Mining Cadastre Office of the ministry; as part of the end-stage of the application process, Mr. Mohammed Amate instructed us in writing that we secure the consents of the relevant community leaders and that of the paramount ruler. The community leaders and the paramount ruler, who were so high-spirited that at last, our company was going to change the fortunes of their communities by way of development and job creations, did not waste any time in offering their full support in favour of our application.
We were so relieved six months ago in June 2014, when the Director General (DG) of the Mining Cadastre told us that he was pleased, to inform us that our application had been taken to President Goodluck Jonathan for his final approval. Three weeks later, the same DG joyously informed us that our file had come back from the President and had been approved. He also assured us that his office just needed to put one or two things together in order to issue our exploration licence within a couple of weeks. It’s now well over six months since we were told our application had been approved. Yet, the licence has not been issued.
In fairness to Mr. President, he has this time around like his predecessors, approved our application.
Even if, he hadn’t approved it, none of us should have any right to criticise or to blame him. He never made us promises! In fact we should all applaud him for his rare honesty.
If you all remember, he posted this quote on Facebook when he ran for office in 2010 that read: “I do not want to win your affections by giving you promises of things I would do in the future which others before me have given and which have largely been unfulfilled”
Judging from this quote therefore, the question we should ask is: why should we expect this administration’s attitude toward the exploitation of the bitumen reserve for the common good of Nigeria to be different from those before it? When on my first visit with my team to Agbabu where bitumen is so prevalent that one can even see it flowing freely over the ground surface; the Paramount ruler, Alagbabu of Agbabu, Oba Patrick Ebunade Akinmulero, in his own words told me, “The story of bitumen deposit in the town is a pathetic one that has further impoverished the people, instead of lifting them from the abject poverty level that they find themselves, President Ibrahim Babangida was here in this town during his regime for an on-the-spot assessment with a pledge that the bitumen would be tapped for the benefit of the people and the country in general. He even set up the Bitumen Project Implementation Committee (BPIC) with office in Akure, the capital of Ondo State in 1989. President Olusegun Obasanjo also came to the town during his tenure also with similar unfulfilled promises”.
Oba Akinmulero made me to add my signature to the long list of those who had over the years come with botched promises that the bitumen developmental project would be actualised. While I appended my signature, I told the ruler, “I am not a politician, I can assure you; I will work assiduously to see that this project becomes a reality”.
Remarkably, nearly all of these politicians in the helms of our affairs were in the University at a time they all enjoyed government bursaries and scholarships, who would, from their generous bursaries buy well-balanced three square meals in well-maintained school cafeterias, lived in decently funded campus accommodations and regularly travelled to London on summer holidays with little or no contributions from their parents or guardians. How heartless it must be, that these same politicians who enjoyed those beautiful times during their university days in this same country or even in some foreign countries on federal or state’s scholarships, now grotesquely feel the best way to pay back to millions of Nigerian parents, whose great contributions gave them that much joy, is by reducing their children and grandchildren who are now in our higher institutions to beggars and prostitutes in order to pay their school fees or even to find a place to live or afford one meal per day, at a time when our country makes over half a billion dollars each day from crude oil.
Nigeria today is worse than 20 years ago. We are now in a period when our young girls, upon reaching the age of puberty, can no more afford to buy sanitary pads while many of our politicians have one or more ipads, which they do not know how to use.
Even though, these politicians often remind us that it was the will of God that put them in their various positions; they’ve all suddenly forgotten that popular adage which, is well-known in all cultures and religions: ‘To whom much is given, from whom much is expected’.
Many of these new generations of students graduate into roaming the streets in search of non-existing jobs, some even lose their lives in the process; while many have resigned to the acceptance of their fate and end up selling galas, pure water and wind-screen wipers around the ubiquitous sections of our motor-ways, in which traffic oftentimes is reduced to standstills due to what no other word will suffice to describe better than simply “manholes”. All these are going on at a time when our government and the ministerial representatives whose job it is, to do something about this arrested development of our youths are unbelievably, actively discouraging some of us with tested knowledge and creativities to create long-term employments for thousands of Nigerians without requiring a penny from the government.
In the words of one of the survivors of Hiroshima bomb disaster: “No word in human language is capable of consoling the guinea pigs, who do not know the reason for their death”.
At this juncture, in order to prevent this from going the way the previous administrations have treated this bitumen issue, I have decided to embark on this unprecedented long walk from the foot of that historic building, Cocoa House, to the office of the Hon. Minister of Mines and Steel Development in Abuja. This journey may take me a month or two, even three. What I am sure of is this. It has to take even the slowest typist on records, less time to type the one-page exploration licence than it will take me to trek the whole of the 622 kilometer journey to Abuja. So, I expect the licence to be ready by the time I finally make it to the ministry. I may not even make it to Abuja. Not because of poor health. I enjoy a very robust health. Not because I suspect some strange animal will pounce on me on the road and kill me, but because some of the voiceless and forsaken people of our country for whom I am making this expedition are more likely to be induced to assault me. I have considered all of these possibilities but none of them will stop me from playing my part in correcting some of the avoidable ills of this potentially great country; self-inflicted hardships, which, sadly had condemned millions of Nigerians to become importunate mendicants.
The last time I checked, I never found any known Kalashnikov, aka AK-47 or any other weapon which, is designed to kill one person more than once.
My immediate and extended families have even implored me to leave Nigeria alone as they believe I would be confronting a more powerful establishment. My simple reply to them is that, I have a much larger family in all of the forgotten people of Nigeria. So, I am doing this for the whole family, which includes all of the millions of ever hard-working yet impoverished Nigerians. Let me say this. Any individual or group of persons bent on ensuring that this licence is blocked this time around for any personal or political gains shall be a traitor to the noble idea of a united Nigeria for our common purposes.
I Thank You All!