At 87, Chief Phillip Asiodu, elder statesman, CFR, CON, retired diplomat, bureaucrat, and former Minister of Petroleum, has seen it all. He was an adult, 26 years to be precise, when Nigeria gained independence in 1960. The only surviving member of the revered top civil servants dubbed as super-perm sec, Asiodu joined the civil service in 1957 and became a Federal Permanent Secretary in 1965. He first served under General Yakubu Gowon(retd), before and during the Nigeria-Biafra war. He was one of those instrumental in the so-called U-turn on the Aburi Accord by the General Yakubu Gowon regime in 1967.
In the botched Second Republic, he was special adviser to President Shehu Shagari on Economic Affairs. In 1999, he aspired for the presidency on the plank of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, but lost out and was appointed thereafter as Chief Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Among other leadership roles, he played were the planning and implementation of Nigeria’s oil and gas policies, negotiations for Nigeria’s admission into OPEC, 1971 and formulation of development plans.
He has lamented that Nigeria is far behind where she should be 61 years after independence. He enumerated the various faulty steps the nation took, the steps not taken and measures that can save the country.
The elder statesman fingered the foundation of the country’s nationhood and argued that if the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe had been jailed by the Colonial Masters that the history of the development of politics in Nigeria would probably have been different as he would have emerged from prison as a towering and uniting national hero.
He decried the destruction of the civil service in 1975 via mass sack by the General Murtala Muhammed regime, abandonment of development plans, lack of continuity in policy formulation and projects execution, lack of planning and vision, unproductive borrowing to pay salaries, and poor implementation of projects, which he said are hurting the country.
Citing the examples of China, India, and Brazil among others with diverse races, Asiodu said with a visionary leadership and commitment to merit Nigeria would be on the path to recovery, lamenting that Nigerians have imposed poverty on themselves.
To save Nigeria, Chief Asiodu, among others, said we must go back to education, healthcare and infrastructure, cut the high cost of governance with the President, ministers, governors, legislators and others taking a pay cut to save money that could be spent on welfare of the citizenry.
His thoughts on Nigeria at 61
Asked his thoughts on Nigeria at 61 years of independence, he said, “we are very much behind where we should be; it is a great tragedy.”According to him, Nigeria has no reason to be poor because “Nigeria is so blessed, in fact more blessed than any country I can think of in terms of basic mineral resources, precious resources, arable land for agriculture throughout the year, rivers and streams that could be dammed
“We have enormous reserves of fossil energy, coal, petroleum and natural gas, as well as wind and solar energy potentials. We can generate energy from waves giving our large coast line.
“With our unique geographical position, Nigeria should be first outsourcing place for the Americas if we had our acts in order. The distance to markets in America is 3,400 miles and less to Europe; but 11,000 miles for Asian countries. All we need is leadership with vision and commitment to merit.
“As someone observed long ago, if you are going to an international conference, you don’t take your Fourth Eleven. And as late Dr Pius Okigbo observed in one of his lectures, that we are doing Affirmative Action and quota does not mean you should bring a village idiot.
“There is no part of this country that does not have bright people and men of intellect. If you are challenged you show what you can do.
“Our problem is the result of the great damage of 1975 when within two to three months we destroyed the civil service, which helped us to survive the two military coups of 1966; helped the country to run and operate a disciplined government to survive the crises and that of the civil war, and was able to organise the logistics of expanding an army of 10,000 to well over 250, 000 to be able to execute the war successfully without borrowing.
“That is why I am sad over the disgraceful thing happening today of borrowing money to spend on consumption.
“We should borrow money to invest with the assurance that the return on that investment will add something and enable us pay the debt. There is no rational explanation for the borrowings.
‘’I propose salary cut from the President down. This is a country where an average poor man does not get the minimum wage and the minimum wage comes to N360,000 a year.
‘’When I was in the Presidential Advisory Committee in 2010, we found that money being drawn by National Assembly members was N212 million per senator. I don’t know what the executives were getting.
“I pointed out that when launching in 1962, the first post-Independence Plan, Balewa, Sardauna, Okpara, Akintola – the Prime Minister, Premiers, Ministers and Ministers in the Regions took a 10 per cent salary cut to signal the need for savings to help finance the Plan.
“In Nigeria today, in spite of our escalating crises, you are well off if you have N1 million or N1.5 million to spend every month. “We can start with gross salary of N35 million for the President and go down. How can you say you are borrowing to pay civil servants? Who are these ghosts?
“The point is, I feel very sad but I am not hopeless. After the civil war, from 1970 to 1975, the Nigerian economy was growing at 11.75 per cent per annum. Ten more years of that we would have exited from poverty.
“By 1975, we were assembling Peugeot and Volkswagen although not exactly at the terms we negotiated but they were each producing 50,000 units.
“And we had worked out with them a deletion factor, that is, you start with 100 per cent completely knocked down package but at a certain volumes of production you manufacture more parts in Nigeria
‘’By 1975, radiators, batteries and brake pads were being produced in Nigeria. Then, people came and without debriefing destroyed the arrangement by allowing several more assemblers. The situation is even worse today.
“As Permanent Secretary, Industries, late Abdul Attah and later I, did a survey. We had seen what happened elsewhere. Brazil, for instance, concentrated on doing Volkswagen; today, they are exporting it. India concentrated on Morris Oxford.
“By contrast, Mexico and Peru each had about eight assembly plants for different makes. Did they get anywhere?
“Then, we agreed that we would defend the market. Then, the leading ones were Peugeot and Volkswagen. We agreed that we will defend the market assuring them of 80 percent of 2 litres and below engine capacity market.
“We started assembling before South Korea, now we are importing from South Korea because we blew the basis. It is even worse now where they are shouting that people are assembling various makes in many places. The more you assemble different makes the more you go nowhere in terms of local production.
“We have now lost the manufacture of radiators, and brake pads when we had reached the stage of eliminating importation of radiators and brake pads because we failed to defend the market for them. Some people seem to be applauding this foolishness. It has to stop. People have to reason.
“Why is this so? In 1975 they (military) destroyed the public service by sacking some of us who used to be saluted by the junior officers because they wanted to do things with impunity.
“After that there was nobody to say, ‘please, this is what must be done based on this and that.’ And trying to debrief people seems to have been lost. As soon as you come in nobody did anything and nobody notices.
“If only Nigerian leaders will learn the reason behind the success of Augustus Caesar. Augustus Caesar was no military genius like his uncle Julius Caesar.
“The greatest gift Augustus had from God was that when he came to power he realised that he should allow talented people to deliver. So, the Senators and others were allowed to flourish and then Rome recorded great success in a period which is now referred to as the Augustan Age, not Ciceronian Age.
“Nigerians must learn that the more brilliant and achieving your lieutenants are the greater your legacy. That is what we suffer from.
“When we were confronting the crises, people like Joda, Gobir, and Damchida, they were northerners, came to the South. As Joda put it in his biography, when they set out to come to Lagos, as Federal Permanent Secretaries Alhaji Ali Akilu, then Secretary to the Government of The Northern Provinces, while seeing him off, said when you get to Lagos be close to two officers.
“The officers happened to be late Ayida and myself. And we became very good friends. People were appointed but were told that they had a lot to learn, and when you challenge people they rise to it.
“But when people sit in their houses, you say it is quota, arithmetically conceived, I never saw a more stupid circular like the one I saw in 2001, which under Federal Character principle, said no state should have less than 2.36% and not more than 3% in any given post or something to that effect.
“What did they do? They took 100 and divided by 36. So, if you have one mathematical genius in Sokoto, you can’t have a second one until you find one in Gusau, one in Enugu, and one in Ijebu-Ode. What rubbish.
“This is the trajectory, a destructive trajectory we are in. Not only that we also abandoned the principle of planning and even having a Vision.
“When they appointed me in 2010 or so to do the Chairman of the Working Committee to co-ordinate the production of Vision 2020, we agreed on three implementation plans: 2010-2013, 2014-2017, and 2018-2021; Four-year plans.
“What happened? As soon as Goodluck Jonathan was elected President in 2011, sycophants went to him. Instead of keeping to what was agreed, we now had Jonathan Transformation Plan. Where is the continuity?
“Nehru was a friend of Balewa. Our first Economic Adviser came from India, who was later on succeeded by Pius Okigbo. We produced the Fourth National Development Plan, 1970-75 under which we were moving from assembly-type industries to industries based on making capital and intermediate goods — pulp and paper, fully processed agricultural products, petrochemicals, spare parts, etc.
“The gmelina trees we planted could be pulped in seven years. In competing places in Canada, Europe and temperate zones, the tree has to be left for at least 25 years.
“In 1983, having retired and doing consultancy, I was invited by Birla Brothers, our technical partners in the Jebba Paper Mill to visit the plant which they were managing in Kenya. We drove them away after our 1975 convulsion.
“They were also technical partners in the Kenya project. They were exporting pulp from Kenya. We would have been doing the same. The Indians were to introduce a type of bamboo for producing pulp. We had also planted Tropical Conifers in Jos area, which would give us long staple fibre for producing pulp for fine paper.
“At Jebba we already had pulp for producing brown paper for packaging. Iwopin Paper on which about 300 million had been invested was commissioned by President Shagari around 1980. Only a few more million dollars was required to complete it. Tragically it was abandoned and the investment lost. Subsequently the gmelina trees planted for pulp became overgrown and were been used for firewood.
“In 1971, I became the founding Chairman of Bauchi Meat Complex that was started in the First Republic when the Sardauna of Sokoto was Premier of the Northern Region with UNIDO as Technical partner.
“What did we do? We brought in calves from various places including Mambilla Plateau, etc, fattened them for 10 weeks and slaughtered them. We had permission to export meat and meat products to Britain and Europe.
“What is the basis of Australian and New Zealand economy? Exporting of meat and meat products to Britain and Europe. If we had continued the Bauchi Meat Complex, and replicated it in a few centres in the North and if today, we had eight of such complexes in the North would we have the problem about herdsmen?
“Because within 50 kilometres the herdsman can sell his cow and return to where he came from where he will have a home, school for his children, etc.
“We cannot in 2021 take Nigeria back to the time of Jesus and Mohammed of herders and shepherds roaming over the land wreaking devastation of farms, properties, and human lives. Nigeria’s population was 40 million at Independence.
“Now we are over 200 million and the population is still growing at about 2.8% per annum We must modernise our economy.
“My many regrets include the aborted development plans; destruction of the civil service and public institutions. General Sani Abacha agreed for us to do Vision 2010. We started implementing Vision 2010 under Abacha, which would have taken us back on track.
“After the 1999 presidential elections, I became Economic Adviser under President Obasanjo, who did not satisfy the requirements to be the PDP candidate in 1999 because to become a candidate you must win your ward, local government and state. He did not win any of these but it was waived for him.
“After his election as President, he appointed me as Chief Economic Adviser, with three deputies, of the rank of Ministers- of- State, I tried to urge, and said to him, ‘let us implement Vision 2010.’ The country was at his feet.
“If he had agreed, and started, by the time he was leaving in 2007 Nigerian economy would have attained a growth rate about 10% per annum.
“The Government would have become very popular The National Assembly would not have had the opportunity of voting enormous perquisites for themselves far beyond the recommendations of RMAFC, which arose from his second term ambition because he needed their support; otherwise he would have been able to constrain them.
You said you have hope…
“It is a question of leadership. The elders (Burdened Elders) were consulting before COVID-19 stopped our meetings, to find 12 or so younger people from each state who will subscribe to a vision to transform to 1st World status and unite to save the country, not like in 2019 when nine of them were presidential candidates.
“They should be united behind one, not more than two. They have the demography numbers even in the voters register.
“They should be united for 2023 election and agree to four or five-year plans to transform Nigeria to 1st World status and global significance.
“Looking back, seeing our resources, and how we started we should be among the First World countries by now.
“It is still possible if we get a leadership of younger people that agrees that there must be a Vision; 2040 or 2050 divided into 4 or 5 year Plans. The plan has to be respected, and followed, and they should utilize remaining institutional memory as much as possible.
“My definition of younger people is 25 to 67 years. When we were planning what would have become the Fifth National Development Plan in 1975, the people (India) who helped us set up our Planning Commission were completing their 11th Five-year Plan. We had abandoned our Fourth Plan in 1975 and stopped planning.
“In those days, we used to consult widely among the ministries and different states. Look at the Fourth Development Plan, 1970-75, and see the various projects in various states and in all sectors with detailed descriptions, costs, locations, etc.
“In the Industrial Sector, the first priority was modernised agriculture and Agro-allied industries, valued added development of petroleum, gas, and solid minerals, then textiles, iron and steel products, etc. Ministries used to produce Annual Reports every year on targets and achievements.
“There has been no report since 1975 about what the ministries are doing. So, how do you monitor? There is no substitute for planning whether you are in the public or private sector.
“I was the Chairman of the committee that approved Festac. The built up Festac today is one quarter of what we approved. It went up to Blackwater Lagoon, and we had planned places for workers and others, and corridors of transportation to take them to Ikeja Industrial Estate.
“It was Alhaji Lateef Jakande who brought them to Dolphin Estate. How were you to move to Ikeja Industrial Estate from Dolphin then?
“I was Chairman of the Committee that persuaded late Gen. Yar’Adua when he was Minister of Transport, and the government to let the RTP of Paris which after surveying cities of Africa, said Lagos and Cairo were ready, and started planning mass transit for Lagos and Cairo the same day.
“Before then, Konisberger Report of the UN had as far back as in 1964 told us to build monorail mass transit in Lagos from Ikeja to Ebutte-Ero.
“They could see where Nigeria was going. However, General Buhari came to power in 1984 and cancelled the Lagos Metro begun by Jakande in 1983.
“Then, in 1991 or 1992, the Military Government of General Babangida sent a delegation to the commissioning of the Cairo Mass transit. We cancelled our own but sent a delegation to the commissioning of Cairo mass transit.
“We lost our deposit of 80 million US dollars and were fined 600 million US dollars by International Arbitration Board because RTP said they had mobilised to site and had started work and sought compensation.
“By the time we settled with Paris Club, it must have become about 3 billion dollars because it was part of the Paris Club debt.
“You can imagine the damage the military had done. Did they do it alone? No. They did it with the support of civilians.
“So much would have happened if we continued our trajectory of development and so much would have been saved.
All states are viable agriculturally
“With education, planning and good leadership, there is no state that cannot be productive in terms of agricultural resources. Okpara, Awolowo, Sardauna developed the Regions in the First Republic with agricultural produce.
“We abandoned agriculture, fiscal federalism, plans, planning and prudent management of resources.
“We must go back to priority investment in high quality education, infrastructure development especially transportation and communications, and non-discriminatory zero-tolerance fight against corruption.
“On anti-corruption, there are two things that can still be done by the present Government before they go if they would agree.
“Like we have in advanced democracies, they should limit the amount of money anybody can contribute to a party in a year, and limit the amount of money a party can spend on elections and party activities.
“If we can get these two done, then the question of submitting yourself to a godfather or selling your properties to raise money for election will stop.
“If you borrowed money or spent heavily to contest election, your first task after election is to recoup and this fuels corruption. It also distorts the cost of government procurement and projects.
Cutting cost of governance
“Then, we have to cut salaries of elected officials, which are too attractive and much beyond our GDP so that we won’t have would-be robbers as leaders.
“These are critical issues to be addressed and not just restructuring. Whether you restructure or not, if the attitude of those going into government is to be on the Forbe’s list of Rich People, even if you turn my street into a state , we will get nowhere.
“When you ask those who want to do restructuring, some are talking about devolution and restoration of regional governments based on the zones.
“How many governors are ready to do that? There is no point pursuing what you know is farfetched. Some are talking about revising revenue to force restructuring.
“However, if we are to pursue agro-allied industrialisation, in five years each state will have hundreds of thousands of people paying taxes from income.
“Once the taxes are not used to pay armies of assistants, special assistants, etc, and phoney civil servants, and going on reckless foreign trips the money would be enough to develop our states.
Disintegration will worsen our crises
“It is not surprising to hear otherwise level headed people, given the current challenges, talk as if the breaking up of Nigeria into several parts would be a solution since to them Nigeria is too difficult to administer.
“I have no doubt that the solution to our problem does not lie in disintegration. It is not possible to divide Nigeria neatly into a given number of successor countries. A collapse of the Nigerian State will most likely result in an unpredictable number of mini-states controlled by warlords.
“Imagine leaving Lagos and encountering a Customs Post in Ikorodu, then Ijebu Ode, then Ofuse, then Benin City, etc. or travelling Northwards, in Sagamu, then Ibadan, then Ilorin, then Minna and so forth. It will be horrendous to have Nigeria as a failed State.
“The fault will be that of the so-called elites. There will be no economic progress and civilization will be halted and life will be very insecure.
“We would find ourselves in a situation of general anarchy and violence. It is a prospect which should shock us to exploring solutions to our current problems.
“What the ordinary man desires is shelter, food, educational facilities to ensure his children’s advancement in life and of course adequate and improving availability of power, health and transportation infrastructure. He is really not interested in the power struggles among politicians.
“Good patriotic visionary leadership and good governance which result in rapid economic and social progress and improving standard of living and quality of life for the great majority of the people are what will lead to national cohesion and stability.
“How remarkable the success of Malaysia in uniting the Malays and Chinese and smaller communities of Indians and others in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic state. Again, China with her 1.4 billion people unites many diverse ethnic and linguistic groups. We also have the Indian example.”