Ayodele Aderinwale, deputy chief coordinator of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), in this interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, Editor, in Abeokuta, Ogun State, said that Nigeria needs to refocus her priorities; the possibility of the country getting out of the poverty web by wholly embracing entrepreneurship and consciously deploying same into wealth creation. He believed that the claim by some elected office holders that poverty can only be alleviated and not eradicated is faulty. Aderinwale also stressed the need for every Nigerian to channel all effort toward wealth-creation. He spoke on other issues. Excerpts:
Could you tell us the place of entrepreneurship in nation building?
Well, let me again step back. Africa as a continent has had to confront several challenges with several enemies. Some of those enemies we have managed to wrestle to the ground; we have had to deal with slavery which decimated us, by and by, we triumphed over that. We had to then deal with colonialism, and which affected us; we triumphed over that. But in the process, the major consequence for most of Africa, not all of Africa, is the issue of poverty. And because post independence Africa has not properly dimensioned poverty, our leaders need to understand poverty properly. Poverty is one: a phenomenon with a very ugly face, you don’t have to put cosmetics on an ugly face and hope you can make it beautiful. Even if you did, you know it would always wash away. The ugliness will always remain and come back to the fore. In the same vein, it is lack of understanding that makes policy makers talk about poverty alleviation. You cannot alleviate poverty. Poverty is like an envelope of darkness. You can’t alleviate darkness. You can’t make darkness bearable. You eliminate darkness because it is destructive; it is restrictive; it doesn’t add to you. It takes a lot from you. That is why you eliminate it. So, in that same vein, poverty as an envelope of darkness, the antidote to darkness is light. So, you have to look at the opposite of poverty; and the opposite of poverty is wealth creation. And unless and until our leaders understand that the task ahead is wealth creation, for so long, would we continue to nibble, and we are treating symptoms. What you see today are symptoms of a disease; the disease is poverty, it will manifest today as kidnapping, increase in violent crime, but that in itself is not the disease. You can treat that but you are not treating the disease. To treat the disease is to treat poverty. And the only way you treat the darkness of poverty is by shinning the light of wealth creation on poverty. That is what will now eliminate poverty.
Don’t you think that poverty is a conscious instrument that the leadership has over the years used to keep the people subjective and there is no conscious effort to treat this disease you are talking about?
I don’t really agree. You see, when you don’t understand an issue, you probably will approach it in a wrong way. If you go to a quack doctor for instance, you have malaria, and the quack doctor is just treating the symptoms of malaria. He is not treating malaria; he is just dealing with your headache, your headache may subside, but the malaria remains. If they understand that wealth creation will lead to national transformation in itself, they would not use poverty as a control mechanism. Believing as it were, so long as the people remain poor, it will be very limited and evil on the part of the leadership to say you want to make poverty a constant companion of your people and permanent condition of existence. It is only a leadership that is evil that will take that kind of perspective.
But, if it doesn’t happen at the leadership, don’t you think our curriculum in schools, should begin to embrace this so that it will now broaden the psyche of the students that there is no white collar job out there? You have to be creative yourself, because until now, many students going to school still believe that whenever they come out they grab white collar job there. Don’t you think it is high time that those who formulate our school curriculums and policies brought that into the consciousness of our students?
It is not the curriculum that is the problem. It is the pedagogy, the science of teaching. What happens in our institutions from primary school to university is that there is too much teaching and limited learning. When you change your pedagogy, the overall approach, and the emphasis is now on learning as against teaching; the first instance is the inquisitiveness. That is what enhances your response to issues and challenges. That is level one at the school. In the family and in the home also, there is also very big problem confronting us; the way most of us bring up our children, ‘daddy knows best’. We fail in our duty as parents by wanting to do everything for our kids. One day I was on a visit to a university and this student came. University student about to resume and the mother was the one filling the form for the boy. Is this boy an invalid? You don’t even want him to take responsibility for his or her life. That means you create a dependency mindset in the child. The dependency mindset grows and the child develops an entitlement sense. ‘I am entitled to this. It is my right to have that’. It is not about seeing the opportunities that are available from private sector initiative. As far back as 1991, I was then programme officer with the African Leadership Forum; I created the Junior Business Seminar. It was a week intensive immersion programme for young university students to look for the opportunities available for private sector in the Nigerian economy. The ability to look around you, to understand that every problem confronting a society carries in it an opportunity for you. And so, it is not just your curriculum. It is the need for a total paradigm shift; either at the level of leadership, political, social, economic, all, even in terms of parents understanding the fact that you cannot do for people permanently what they should do for themselves. In the same vein, unless you have wealth creation as a cross curtain theme, the focal point for development. Take for instance, if a governor were to wake up today and say ‘my focus for my state is wealth creation’. It means whatever else policy you are doing must be aimed at wealth creation: agriculture for wealth creation; road for wealth creation; industry and commerce for wealth creation; that is all. How did China lift about 300 to 400 million people out of poverty within a very short time? They did it (A) by enhancing the income earning ability of the household, (B) by increasing access to improved health facility, and stuffs like that. That way you take a comprehensive approach. So, it is not about teaching or going to school to learn entrepreneurship. That is not just the theme, entrepreneurship is a mindset. Before I left here, we were running Entrepreneurship Development Centre for part of the southwest; and one of the first things we do is to retool the mind to help the potential applicants and professionals who come for training to understand you need to change your mind set in the first instance; you need retraining; you need to retool; you need to refocus your mind and that is what you have to do. So, it is going to be some kind of serious campaign, both within the family, in the schools because it changes the pedagogy for students to learn; not the standard thing: lecturer walks in ‘blablabla’, and the student regurgitates the same thing during examination. No. Leave them to go make enquiry. In places like South Korea, at the age of 14, if you are in the sciences, they teach you how to culture bacteria; you go to the lake and collect water and grow bacteria. They teach you to make explosives. You do the experiment. You take charge. You are responsible. In a place like Canada, in the university, the same hostel is shared by boys and girls. It is not boys separate and girls separate. You take responsibility for your personal discipline. You don’t touch that girl without her permission. You can even be in the room. That is what they call learning to be in control of your body. You don’t ask me to cover up my body so as not to tempt him. I can dress the way I like. It is you that need to control yourself and take responsibility. You need to take away this paternal disposition on the part of government; the saviour disposition of parents, who thinks they can provide everything the child needs; that is why the man needs to steal himself blind because he wants to provide for ten generations down the road.
Now, assuming you are the president or you are in leadership position at the federal level, what are the steps you would have taken to make sure these solutions you are proffering now are put into practice?
You break it into three: there is the long term, the fundamental changes that need to take place. There is a medium run and then there is a short run. For the long term is to deal with the issue of reorientation and changing the mindset; dealing with the educational sector and all of that. In the medium run, is to now talk about how do you enhance the survival and the operational environment for enterprises in Nigeria? How do you begin to promote that so that your enterprises can thrive? You create industrial parks; you promote cluster farming among young people; and encourage all manner of incentives and framework for enhancing entrepreneurship. And then in the short run, is to have properly designed programme that immediately can enhance the ability of young people to go into entrepreneurship. But it is the question of understanding all of these. Then, also at the fundamental level, is to say, okay, this is our main focus, and you take that major thing and you use it to drive all of your activities so that for the next ten years, you insist that ‘we are going be obsessed with wealth creation’. So, for the next ten years, whatever you do in aviation; transport; housing; health and whatever you do anywhere, is aimed at one thing: wealth creation. That is what you call long term strategy.