By Oyeniyi Iwakun
Engr. (Mrs) Janet Adeyemi is the President of Women in Mining in Nigeria, an affiliate of International Women in Mining. She is also the founder of Succor for Battered Lives (SUBATEL), a charity organization which fends for victims of disasters. She also served on the Strategic Development and Policy Implementation Committee of Ondo State Government. Hon. Janet is an astute politician, seasoned administrator and a human rights crusader. She also served as an Executive Board Member of Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission(ICRC); Senior Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo on National Assembly Matters; Chairman, Cocoa Processing Industry Ondo State and former Member, House of Representatives. In this interview with MMS Plus, she bares her mind on several issues on leadership, oil and gas and mining in Nigeria. She explains the challenges, the place of the youths in leadership and gives advice on successful fight against corruption. Excerpts:
During your days at the legislative chamber, you co-sponsored the creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) bill. What were your projections then?
Aside being an indigene of Ondo State, I co-sponsored the NDDC bill because at that point in time at the National Assembly there was no representative from Ilaje/Ese-Odo federal constituency as a result of litigation for almost one and half years. It was later John Mafo eventually won the ticket of People Democratic Party (PDP) and came. For me, I felt that my state was being cheated so I decided to take up the challenge of running the two constituencies (Ile-Oluji/Odigbo and Ilaje/Ese-Odo federal constituencies) at the House of Representatives and I became so vocal with supporting Ilaje/Ese-Odo.
And then, Fola Ajimakin brought Chief Olusola Oke to me and they submitted a paper telling me why Ilaje/Ese-Odo should be part of NDDC and what should be done and the paper was so articulated. When I got the paper, I started mobilizing my colleagues, convincing them to support the bill. A committee was set up and I brought in Chief Olusola Oke to address the committee. You know legislative things is about lobbying and before you know it, one thing led to the other and today it is history. That was what dovetailed into having a Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
At the initial stage, people believed Ondo State should not be part of NDDC but I was able to go to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and all the other relevant organizations to prove my points and at that time I discovered that we were number three (3) in oil production in Nigeria. In fact, it was the fight around the table between me and one of the elder statesmen that made me a daughter to the elder statesman today. He initially disagreed with accepting Ondo State as part of NDDC but by the time I was able to bring enough supportive evidences, nobody could push Ondo State aside.
The moment we passed that bill, I quickly went to Ondo State again, because I knew that excessive funding would be coming to the state. I wrote a private member bill, mobilized Edenma Adebobajo, Arije and all others to meet the governor of Ondo State and alert him on the need to create an equivalent Commission. It was this private member bill that I gave to Ademola Adegoroye and told him that we needed to pass the bill and that was what led to the creation of Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC) that we have today, making Ondo State the first Niger Delta state that utilized their Thirteen Percent (13%) derivation through a commission before other states started emulating. So, in those days, legislators were hardworking.
Are NDDC and OSOPADEC performing up to expectation?
Just like any other organization in Nigeria, corruption is everywhere. The kind of turnaround I would have expected in Ondo State is not what we are getting today because I don’t think access to potable water. Should this still be a problem among the people?
The roads by now should have been better than what it was. I also thought of seeing a robust seaport development which is not necessarily within the purview of NDDC but through Public Private Partnership (PPP) or whatever policy to transform the place..
When you look at Ayetoro axis, you will agree with me that there is a major problem; although I have not been there for a while but by now I am sure if the needful is being done, we would have heard of it.
“If you do an estimate of the number of beautiful houses that has sprang up in Igbokoda and a critical cost benefit analysis, and then look at the infrastructure on the environment, hospitals, water supply, roads, electricity, look at all those social amenities and merge them against the cost of the private infrastructure that has sprang up and then do your conclusion, then you will realize what I am talking about because I know Igbokoda of 20 years ago.
If any of them fall sick in any of those beautiful houses, where would they rush them to? With asthma, are they likely going to make it before they get to the nearest hospital? Those are the gaps. We develop our individual selves at the expense of government, whereas, the common social facilities should be the centre of focus to any individual or persons.
With the corruption this government is fighting, I think it would be a lesson for others because if you fight it now, somebody else is coming to continue from where you stopped. Even if you accumulate wealth illegally, you should be ready to vomit it in the future. I believe that over time, some of these things would be organized and we will start seeing the results. At least, the institutions are in place.
What do you think can be done to make those agencies of government do the needful?
I think it’s unfair to pass everything on government. If I may ask, who is government? Aren’t all of us government? It is government of the people, by the people and for the people. We are the government but the problem is that we refuse to use our powers. Our thumb is the inherent natural power that the almighty God has given to us but do we use it? No! We allow our belly to dictate to us. You and I have witnessed in this country where people still carry placards to support criminals who have been found guilty with evidences. Who are the people carrying these placards? It’s definitely you and I. If individuals have benefited so much at the expense of the generality of the people, I think the people wanted it so because if people decide to use their powers, no government officials can be corrupt and I can tell you nobody can steal a dime from the people’s money.
For me, I believe that if everyone goes back to his or her people and try to build their capacities, do road shows and educate them, things will change for better and the desired results will be gotten, but what do we even see around these days? Journalists sit down, concocting stories and telling falsehoods. A criminal gives you stipends and you start painting that person to be saint or giant. You even attach things he didn’t achieve to him, just to portray him as a good person. How can you have a good country in this kind of situation? In this case, you are not responsive to the people and environment but the envelope in your hand. And then at the end of the day you now say it is Buhari. No! It’s neither Buhari nor Obasanjo and not even Jonathan. One person cannot hold the entire country to ransom in terms of development; it takes all to agree and that’s what we are doing in Nigeria. If we all decide to say no to corruption, so shall it be.
I can also tell you that in this country we have honest people. I was reading the other time in Qatar that a young man deposited five hundred and the bank credited over one million into his account (One million had been added to what he deposited by mistake) but the young man went back to the bank manager to call his attention to it and he is a Nigerian. As terrible as Nigeria is, we have Nigerians that are doing well. We have so many of them in America making waves. The problem is that, majority of the masses hide under poverty as excuse for failure. I don’t think poverty is the problem, a poor man can maintain his dignity if he chooses to.
I have observed that if Nigerians see someone who is upright, they will not go for him or support him for leadership positions but rather prefer the wealthy one. The question I ask is: Have you queried the source of the money? When you collect money before voting, what do you think the person will do when he gets there? Is it not to recoup his money first? It’s an investment my brother.
You championed the enactment of the Bitumen development bill and that’s why you are called “Madam Bitumen”, was the bill eventually passed?
Of course, Bitumen development bill was passed and it was signed. I was called “Madam Bitumen” because Bitumen was completely strange to them in the parliament and they felt, “who is this lady championing Bitumen development?”
Again, it’s because of where I was coming from. I worked on Bitumen when I was at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) with Prof Adegoke, Prof Ajayi, Prof Rhaman and others under the Geology Consultancy unit of the institution. As a student then, I was going to the site with them and I was exposed to the potentials Ondo State was sitting on.
Like I told you in the beginning, the development of Bitumen is capital intensive. We are still struggling with what we have; we cannot even afford to go there now because we don’t have the capital and technical ability to manage it. Another thing is the politics around it right from the very beginning which is the usual ways of taking licenses and putting it in the pocket. These are some of the problems but I believe that our new minister is so determined to free Nigerians from the burden around Bitumen because I can see his policies are good.
Recently Ondo State Government also said it would start Bitumen exploration
Yes! Because they have a licence
But people think Governor Agagu who was a Geologist was supposed to have kick- started it?
Well! Agagu tried to do something; you know he is not around to defend himself now so you wouldn’t know the hurdles he went through. Like I told you, one thing is for you to want to develop something, but when you don’t have the technology and money, if investors are not willing to come and if your perception index is too low, what can you do? Definitely, you wouldn’t be able to drive it.
Today, you can see our communications sector being flooded as so many investors are coming in. You need to open up a space and improve on your perception index. People will not just rush into something like Bitumen and do something. It was even Adefarati that started it in Ondo State. The foundation has been laid, it’s now left for other people to build on it and then as the economy and technology get better, it will become easier.
As someone who made a lot of efforts and sacrifices to ensure that Nigeria gets debt relief, what can you say about the recent move by the Federal Government to borrow more funds?
You see, there is no country without a debt profile, including the United States of America (USA), “the giant”. No nation can develop without borrowing. That’s the whole essence of life. Even most businessmen have huge debt profile. The most important thing is how honourable you service your debt. The Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosu must be very right. The revenue generated cannot be enough to run the race and implement all policies.
What happened to Nigeria then was that we borrowed and the interests were running without the loan being serviced. Although, they were not fair with us at that time because no nation would pay such debt at a trench. We could have renegotiated the debt and then pay consistently.
You contributed to the emergence of Barr. Rotimi Akeredolu as governor of Ondo State, what is your assessment of his government, so far?
I think it’s too early to assess the government of Barr. Rotimi Akeredolu. As a party loyalist, the moment he emerged as the APC’s gubernatorial candidate, we had no choice than to support the party’s candidate for our party to emerge and to God’s glory he won the election and I am excited that all our leaders including Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Baba Bisi Akande who have sacrificed a lot to build the party also gave their support to the government of Akeredolu.
Akeredolu started well by initiating several committees on different areas of government. I was in the Infrastructure Committee where the engineers were to look and appraise the infrastructural facilities of Ondo State and what can be done to upgrade and bring in new facilities and I am happy we submitted a brilliant report. I am also sure he has his reasons for taking his time to pick his Commissioners and Advisers.
But six or five months may be too short to appraise the performance of a government and if you ask me about the templates he has started with, I think he is in line.
Again, with the way he was answering questions at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference, I observed that he knew what he was doing. He talked about making Ondo State a maritime hub by stimulating shipping activities; taking advantage of its long and deep coastline. That’s a good one if he can push it. He spoke about Bitumen development and opening of the roads to the coastal areas. I am of the opinion that if China could build roads across the ocean, what stops Ondo State from linking up with Lagos? With taxi, it will be about one hour or less from Ondo State to Lagos.
You could see the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) he signed with Air Peace; I believe it will boost business development in Ondo State and save a lot of time while traveling. At least, it will be possible to shuttle between Lagos and Akure in a matter of minutes. To me, those are good things to show that the governor has a focus of where he is going and he is near.
You would have known that I am never a praise -singer of anybody but with his accessibility to his people which I observed at the NBA conference, it tells you that he is on the right path. When a leader connects with his people, he has the opportunity of getting vital information for easy assessment of what he is doing.
The youths are agitating for leadership positions via the Not Too Young To Run Bill, what is your take?
For me, I don’t know why we have a bill called Not Too Young To Run. I served in the Presidency together with the late Ken Saro -Wiwa Jnr. and he was very young. Dimeji Bankole was very young when he became the speaker of the House of Representatives. In fact, he was yet to marry then. Another example is Tambuwal, is he old? Are we talking of sixteen years old or twenty years old to run? No! For me, I don’t know the meaning of the bill. Yes, it’s good to make presentation for the Constitution to be silent on the age limit but people earn leadership by their work.
In fact, if you look at the advanced countries like the case of President Obama in America and Emmanuel Macron of France, it was a product of their antecedents. It’s not about fighting. It’s not about getting to meetings and saying youths must be recognized. It’s a matter of what you have done. Your contribution is what will make people say you are qualified.
When you look at Nigeria, you can equally conclude that youths are the problem. When you see where youths gang around, it’s always frightening. They are the ones who serve as thugs that send people away from the polling boots. That’s why today most responsible persons don’t participate in elections because they are scared to come out; hence, the poor electoral outcomes we are getting. If youths don’t work towards it, they cannot earn it. Zuckerberg, Obama and others worked to earn it. If you look at Nigeria today, most youths go out, collect money and act according to the instructions of their pay masters.
This is not to say that I am discrediting the fact that there are some intellectually upright youths around the corner. Youths overnight can shun money and turn things around. You saw the Kenyan election where young people who had nothing emerged victorious at the polls because they were able to articulate their positions and mobilize themselves. But can the youths of this country do that? If another Evans (the kidnapper) comes up with money and start sharing with them, will they not follow him? Why are we now holding anyone responsible for marginalization of the youths? The youths in Nigeria should first of all imbibe discipline. How many responsible persons in America “sag” their trousers? Do you expect people to elect somebody “sagging” to the Parliament or the governor’s office?
If youths must occupy leadership positions, let role models come out of them. They should mobilize themselves and associate with the elderly that have earned it not the criminals.
President Buhari now works from home and that has attracted criticisms from different quarters which felt that he is still probably not sound because his spokesman said rodents and rats sent him out of office. How logical is that?
I think the spokesman was just trying to be sarcastic because he said it in “pidgin” language. Buhari didn’t send him that. The truth is that, I am worried about why Nigerians are shouting about Buhari working from home. A former American President Franklin Roosevelt was ill for a long time and on wheel chair and Americans did not reject him because of that. Since Buhari left the country, was there any gap? Were things not being done? Of course, he transmitted power to the Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo. If we are not mischievous or out for something else, for me, there is no cause for alarm since things were going on smoothly.
Somebody has just come back from a medical trip, for God’s sake, is it not fair for us to let him have some rest? I can tell you as someone who has worked in the presidency that the President has a large office attached to his apartment where he can work from home and all he has to do in the office is attending to visitors. In fact, in those days, the president might not step into the office for two to three weeks.
Tell us about your NGO, Succor for Battered Lives (SUBATEL)? What’s the idea behind it?
Succor for Battered Lives came up when I was in the House of Representatives. I was privileged to be among a 9- man Committee set up by the then Speaker, Ghali Na ‘Abba to visit the North-West to look at the security challenges there. At that time, Boko Haram was in its incubation and they just struck a community in Taraba. They maimed and killed people. There was a particular woman whose baby the insurgents wanted to behead but she defended the baby with her hand and the hand was chopped off. When we got to the hospital, I was just crying. When we returned to our lodge, we thought about what we could give to them and then I thought about Succor for Battered Lives. How do we bring Succor to them? It’s not about money alone, it could just be talking to them and the next morning I went back to this lady at the hospital, sat down beside her and started communicating in my small Hausa and she was laughing and I was very happy. Since then I have been trying my best but you know most NGOs in this country don’t get support unless you are in government. That’s part of the corruption we are talking about, no matter how good your intentions might be; you wouldn’t get the needed attention and funding.
Another thing is that, Nigerians are not that philanthropic, they don’t give. There are notable individuals outside who give grants to other African countries but the reverse is the case in Nigeria. Our rich ones wouldn’t give, they prefer to waste resources and until we learn to give maybe the less privileged in our society will be able to benefit.
Year 2019 is around the corner, do you have any political ambition?
Tomorrow is in the hands of God. I am not that kind of politician that starts scheming over an ambition. We are still in 2017 and a lot of things will still happen before 2019. I am contented as a technocrat. Although, people have been coming to me to say I should contest. Yes! I also like good things but I am not that kind of ambitious person who becomes restless and pursue one political power desperately. God will decide what the future holds.
Let me tell you how I came into politics. In those days, I was fond of always asking questions and complaining about why things were done wrongly in Nigeria. I had the privilege of meeting Chief Olu Falae and he advised me to join politics. So, I started attending meetings in Late Baba Ajasin’s house not as Afenifere but just as a young lady observing the system.
Thereafter, Segun Ojo started the “Atunluse” and I started attending Atunluse meetings. That’s the first major meeting I associated with. The Atunluse and Afenifere dovetailed into the Alliance for Democracy (AD). What I am saying in essence is that I am not too regular in politics. It’s out of passion that I joined the system to change things for better and the “WHYs” I was talking about then are still there till today. That’s why I tell those professionals to leave their comfort zones and participate in the system because when you leave it, mediocre will fill the space and there is nothing you can do about it.
And if you say it’s dirty, you just have to play by the rules and get there so that you can correct whatever observed abnormalities. As for me, I have never fought anybody in politics neither have I in anyway hurt anyone. I have contested elections and lost and that doesn’t make me quarrel with anybody because power belongs to God. I believe it’s a calling. For everything we do, we shall account for it. When you acquire wealth illegitimately, someone else will enjoy it. In those days legislators don’t go after money, they don’t scout for contracts but the reverse is the case today and our youths are not asking questions.
Looking at all these achievements, do you have any role model?
My role model is my mother. She never had the privilege of going to school but she was hardworking and successful. She gave me some principles on how she survived amidst all odds which I still use till date. She said “in any society you find yourself, you must be hardworking, determined and successful”. She taught me to associate with people that are better than me so that I can always gain something from them. My mother would tell you that when you fail, you have learnt something new. To her, failure shouldn’t be the end. I always read about people I admire and that has been my secret.
I don’t agree with people that often claim that they are not successful because of their backgrounds. It’s all lies because around you opportunities abound. Just recently I read about a girl on the social media who went to a place to become a house help but she ended up being celebrated. Your character and charisma is very important. When people find out that you are honest, hardworking and dedicated, the sky would be your limit.
With your busy schedule, how do you cope with the home activities?
Laughs! My last born graduated eight years ago and he is a Chartered Engineer too. I have three children. The two boys are in America and the girl has gotten married. So, they have now their homes. My husband is an Engineer and Pastor in America and that takes him out a lot. We maximize the time we both have and take out our holidays and vacations. I have never had problems with managing my home as a housewife and mother.
What is your advice to the youths in general?
They should imbibe the spirit of hard work, the world is changing. I use the social media a lot because of the nature of my work and I found out that our youths are not upright.
We have different categories of youths based on two different classes in Nigeria today. In those days, we used to have what is called “slavery” by colonial masters but today there is another kind of slavery by the rich. And let me give you an analogy on that. You went to the University with your friend, graduated the same day, went for National Youth Service together and after NYSC his father just fixed him in up in Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), or the NNPC automatically, but because you don’t have any godfather, you begin to roam the streets. Five years after you are lucky to see someone who gave you a temporary employment, can such a person ever catch up? In the same category, you find graduates doing menial jobs that are not relevant to their qualifications. How many students can afford to study medicine and spend 7 years in the University these days? Where will the parents get seven years with ASUU strike and others? Will they be able to wait or afford it?
Demographics are shifting every day. In those days, I went to the Federal Government College with others and whether you are rich or poor, there was no discrimination. After my SSCE, I went to St Louis, did common entrance for HSC and three of us who made it came from the same town, local government, division and the same region. There was nothing like quota system but if it were these days, I am sure they would not allow that. In short, people in government who have money will put their own people there and technically, they are the leaders.
In essence, the sons and daughters of the poor are gradually being pushed away. Class is beginning to emerge. Unlike in the past, the class definition is becoming very clear and when you can’t work, you can’t get income, and you can’t do anything. Is it not those that have class that will think of politics? That’s why you see today that the rich people’s children are no more marrying the poor. So, you can see a problem growing from there? And the youths are not seeing that.
If nothing is done, in the next 10 years, it will be so pronounced and that’s why I will urge the youths to put their heads together, unite themselves and remove the rich from the system. The youths must be fastidious, hardworking and think for themselves so that they will not be used.
Copyright MMS Plus.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from KINGS COMMUNICATIONS LIMITED.