Classics, Interviews

Elder statesman, Phillip Asiodu talks about Nigeria of the past and present

ON a personal contact with one-time minister and Chief Economic Adviser to the Federal Government, Chief Phillip Asiodu, the rot in the polity will dominate his discuss.  The75 year-old is very much worried that things are kilometers away from what they used to be.  He had been there before.  The father of seven spoke to ENCOMIUM Weekly on the way out of the mess the country finds itself and other personal issues.


The Nigeria of today is not the same as when you were in government, where do you think we missed our track?

1-Asiodu1It’s a very complicated story, we had a British colonial administration, later we got the pre-independent leaders Azikiwe, Awolowo and Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello.  These were people who had their own professions, they were teachers, lawyers, etc.  They had clear visions, and were poised to show that we could do more for our people and truly, they did when they got independence.  Things were orderly but unfortunately we had this most tragic military intervention and that is where all things went wrong because it destroyed our normal political evolution.  The two coups destroyed the civil service and improved the syndrome, ‘Make hay while the sun shines,’ which is corruption.  Apart from that, we abandoned planning, that is where we went wrong.  Unfortunately, the destruction of public service, the abandonment of planning, the lack of discipline and the truncation of political evolution, we now have a situation in which people went into politics not with the vision of our founding fathers but as a business investment.

We have blamed the military for our woes, what are the role of the politicians in all of these, what are those things the new generation politicians are doing that you don’t get to see in your days in government?

I won’t use the word blame because I will rather say it was a great tragedy.  The military coup truncated what could have been our normal political evolution where our founding fathers would have handed over latest 1970, 72, and their lieutenants would have been induced with that same vision showing our previous rulers that we can do better for ourselves.  Now, who are the new generation politicians, they do not derive from that tradition, because during the military coups, they banned politics, banned parties and seized their assets.  That happened in 1966 and then in 1976, they allowed politics to come back and said well, we will return to civilian rule in 1979.  Politicians who came in 1979 still had some of this ideas and motivation of pre-independence.  Some were dead and some were still around and their lieutenants were still there, then we had military coup of 1983.  Buhari came, locked up all the politicians without trial, when they came out a few died, some survived, then Babangida came, he freed all of them, and banned them.  Then he unbanned them.  They returned and he banned them and created two parties.  In 1998, Abdulsalami came and said within one year parties should choose candidates, assembly, legislatures, governors.  So, who are the present politicians, these were not the disciples of those who fought for independence to show they can do better, these were mainly people who followed the military government, participated probably in some of the contracts, collected a little money and when suddenly parties were to be formed were available to finance them.  We do not have a proper political parties in Nigeria today.  A proper political party starts with a few people with a great vision, if I say that my vision is to loot Nigeria you won’t follow me, so that vision must talk about advancing the national interest, moving us forward, making us equal with the rest of the world and on that basis they recruit people and we complain we don’t have this and that.  When you have that then they call you, you know what they stand for, you know who called you, it is hierarchy, it is discipline.  You have people now simultaneously negotiating with three or four political parties, if they don’t take me here as governor, another party will take me.  We must come back to a situation which we re-engineer parties, insist that they have programmes manifestoes, better still if we are able to fashion a real good Vision 20-20-20 and canvass it and inform the generality of Nigerian citizens and let politics be for the general interest then we will begin to have the evolution which will enable Nigerians realize their potentials.  Give its people very, very high standard of living, increasingly progressive over the next 30-40 years, give us our natural position because we are the biggest concentration of blacks in the world.  We have fantastic mineral resources, agricultural and human, we have a fantastic geographical position. If we use all these things well, we will have only 2,000 or 3,000 miles to access the markets of Europe and America.  Look at our geographical advantage, what have we made of it.  We are 50 years behind in economic front.  It’s better late than never, we would discover, God willing, the leadership, the will, the commitment to go back and develop our country for the benefit of our people and the Africans here and in the diaspora.

What is your opinion about our leader who is presently on sick bed in Saudi Arabia, do you think the president has all it takes to run this country?

Don’t say we don’t have a sound president.  I believe that by the time it’s clear that he cannot effectively administer for sometime, there are constitutional provisions of making the vice president, the acting president and when the president recuperates fully he resumes. So, there are provisions in this situation.  The difficulty we have is really in destroying the civil service and in destroying the quality of politics. What we must pray for is that we go back to the political system and deliberately try to create an all front, the leadership materials committed to progress.  What we are seeing now is not that the president is sick, but people are beginning to feel that in his absence we have obvious leaders in certain sectors pushing things.  We must go back to the old days where we were taught about the collective will of governance.  Because government is not just a person, everybody was committed to the process of the government if I was in Ministry of Health and something good happened in the ministry of labour. I have participated in that, we seem to have lost that and we must really go back.

You served as a minister and then as chief economic adviser, how easy was it for you to rise to that position?

We must go back to the situation in which we give every Nigerian the opportunity of qualitative education. I will be quite happy if this country spends at least 30 per cent of its budget to make sure we go back to an education system which is of first class in international standard.  Then, we will produce the people, then we must go back to the system we had in my days where having thrown opportunities to everybody, you recruit on the basis of the stated qualifications, they advice on the basis of going through certain training at certain stages, pass certain tests, exams, interviews and people were versed in the basis of merit and productivity.  We are in a global country, Nigeria cannot get anywhere without deploying its first eleven and so federal character has been misapplied in recent years.  We must return to the situation in which every Nigerian in every part of the world, every child is given educational opportunities on that basis no state within a period of say 20 years will say it is disadvantaged.  There should not be anything like Nigerian factor.  One of my teachers in Kings College used to say, ‘either the first or with the first.’

You are 75 this year and you still look young and active, what is your driving force?

You are very kind if you say I look agile.  I think we are very lucky to go to school which not only insisted on a good work in the classrooms but in recreation sports, games, exercise.  Again discipline, we tend to over eat in Nigeria, we shouldn’t.   And again we must learn to manage not to overstress ourselves.  I think with this little precept of moderation in everything, balanced diet, good exercise and then be cheerful, it helps.  Listen to your doctor on what to eat and the vitamins that help.  Many Nigerians tend to dismiss these things and then by the time they start ageing and they go back to start taking vitamins, then it is too late.

What does a man need to succeed in life?

There is no short cut to success, it must be hard work.  The new generation wants quick answers to all their needs.  It doesn’t work like that, during my time you go through all the normal process before you can become this and that and there was no room for mediocrity.  There was no other route to success other than hard work and dedication.

What keeps you busy now that you are retired?

I am involved in NGO that talks about afforestation.  I am quite busy attending meetings.  I also love to play golf, before it was squash but with age I had to go for golf once in a while.  Playing golf can be interesting and healthy too because of your breath, heart beat.  I recommend it for everyone.  I also belong to some social organization where I go for relaxation once in a while.

What is the greatest lessons life has taught you?

To do things in moderation and to do them at the right time, don’t wait for tomorrow what you are supposed to do today. I have learnt quite a lot.

You always appear in white agbada more than suit, what is the significance of white?

I love white and pastel, not for anything but for purity.  I also go out in suit, but white sometimes reveals how neat and clean a person is.  I love to come out in native clothes, well ironed and neat.

Tell us about your children and what they do?

My children are all grown ups.  We have four daughters and three sons. They have all left tertiary institutions, three are here in Nigeria working, three are in England, one is in Trinidad.  We already have about eight grandchildren, we are getting on well.

Why didn’t you consider politics at least to contribute your own quota?

I had thought that I might do politics, but when I saw the nature of politics it wasn’t so interesting, so I started life first in the foreign affairs section, chief secretary office. I was in the Nigerian foreign office, after seven years or so I thought I would contribute my own in the home service, I went in there hoping that around 40, I would retire and start a career in private life.  Unfortunately, the coup came, politics then wasn’t too good.  But as a senior administrative officer, I was contributing to policies and when they removed the ministers we had to carry the ministries and then the civil war came, we played the role we thought we must play to keep Nigeria one and we went round the world talking about the hopes of the federal government, that made us very unpopular with some politicians which meant that it was a campaign invented to extol the post of the super permanent secretary. This was part of the initial justification.  The civil servants were those who paid the price for this country, planlessness, lack of discipline, money filtered away, stagnant economy, increased pauperization which a firm civil service would have prevented.  You know how many times in recent history government changed in Italy, France, but with a good civil service, those countries continued.  But never despaired, Nigeria will stand again.


  • This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, June 9, 2009

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