Ambassador Folake Marcus- Bello, a lawyer, political scientist and broadcast journalist, was formerly the Sole Administrator of Gateway Hotels before she was appointed the State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Welfare in Ogun State. She later became Nigeria’s Ambassador to Zambia and Malawi between 2008 and 2012. She believes that corruption is not the major problem of Nigeria but indiscipline. In this interview with Sun Newspaper, she speaks on various issues.
What are your expectations from General Muhammadu Buhari’s government?
A lot of people are shouting corruption. That’s not enough for me. General Buhari is a no-nonsense, disciplined man. He is principled. I am looking forward to Buhari that we knew, the Buhari that we fell in love with during the Buhari/Idiagbon era. I’m looking forward to a disciplined Nigerian. Corruption comes under discipline.
Everything that is wrong with us comes under indiscipline. If you are disciplined, it means you would not be able to steal. A disciplined mind will not do anything negative whether anybody is looking or not. A disciplined mind would not make things difficult for you when you want to get your papers. All aspects of corruption would be taken care of by discipline. I’m looking forward to a disciplined government which will trickle down to a disciplined people. It was him and late Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon who started the War Against Indiscipline (WAI). And it worked.
Then, if you go to check people in the office, you find them. Then, if you want to take a bus, there were queues. Then you will want to go to the filling station and there would be a queue. Then you would not dare follow one way while driving nor commit traffic offence. Then, you will want to take a grant or loan from a Federal Government programme and somebody would not sit on the money and deny you. We are all indisciplined people in this country. From the way we speak, the way we raise our children, from the way we dress; even in public office. Some people will dress for work as if they are going to a disco. We are grossly undisciplined. From every home to the Federal Government, there is gross indiscipline.
They said Buhari is an extremist. What is his extremism? He lined up drug pushers and killed them. Some people cheated in exams and were jailed, or so. Now Buhari has won the election, he should not change. I know it is a little more difficult in a democratic setting, we must find a way. All of us Nigerians must rally around him and be determined, because now they are shouting Halleluyah, Hossana, give me another one month, Nigerians would start to complain because we are not disciplined people. He has to find a balance. He cannot do it cheaply as a democratic man and he cannot do it strongly as a military man, but he must find a balance. We must pray for him to find a mid-way that Nigerians will listen to, because everybody is tired. We are all complaining. We are not disciplined. That is number one for him.
Secondly, why are we not disciplined? I am supporting Nigerians because a lot of people don’t know this. I have said this so many times. For me, training is number two. I am talking of ignorance since ignorance of law is not an excuse. You cannot take one way and say it is because you don’t know. But I am talking of knowledge. Many Nigerians don’t know their rights. Even in government offices, many officials don’t know what their rights are. Many senators, House of Representatives members, it will amaze you that so many people don’t know protocols.
For instance, we saw a lot of that from the President’s wife. They do not know what they are supposed to do and what they are not supposed to do. Let us take a living example. For a long time, the wife of the President stepped out of the aeroplane before the President and started to greet everybody. It is not illiteracy, it is indiscipline. But what has caused the indiscipline? She didn’t know. And nobody trained her. Everybody was afraid.
Maybe she was not ready to learn?
No. No. No. Charles, that is a good question. If there were protocols that have been followed, she would have to follow the protocol or they will have to leave her at home. Somebody must be in charge of that. Somebody cannot come and continue to disgrace the whole nation because she is the President’s wife.
Let us look at international example. Mrs. Obama went to visit the Queen of England, and she turned around to give the Queen a hug. Nobody touches the Queen in their culture. That caused a lot of uproar. A lot of British people were upset. And I am sure somebody in her care would have been reprimanded, somebody in charge of her protocol because whether you like it or not, it was a breach of protocol.
So, training is another thing you are advocating?
Once Nigerians become disciplined and they are trained, I don’t think we will have a problem. Under indiscipline comes corruption. Are you just going to be telling people don’t be corrupt. For example, a director in the ministry, let’s say Director of Finance and Accounts, has the right to control the minister. But he is too afraid because he doesn’t know the power he has. He doesn’t know that he is there as a check on the minister himself. The Minister may want to control the Permanent Secretary. They don’t know the protocol that is between them. All these are blocks of checks.
Some people will say they are politicians and we are career officers. It is check and balance. Intimidation is a big problem because people are not trained. When I was a commissioner for instance, the secretary would jump out to welcome me. She would kneel down before collecting my bag. It is against the protocol. She is not your slave. She is not a house maid. The office is not your home. The protocol is, maybe I come to the office and she stands up to say “hello”. That is the best honour she is giving you. She is rising because her boss has come. And she is saying good morning, how was your night? This is your schedule for tomorrow. But when they start kneeling down, taking your bag, I mean, it is ridiculous.
You will see a police officer saying good afternoon Madam, how was your night? Some will even be carrying the bag of the female Commissioner or Governor’s wife as if they are the personal assistant or house maid. It is because they don’t know it is wrong. How many police officers know the Police Act? A lot of politicians, commissioners and governor’s wives don’t know it is completely wrong to turn security operatives and secretary to a personal assistant or housemaid. How many political office holders know what they are supposed to do? How many of them have good mentors who they can talk to, that in a situation like this, what should I do? Yoruba adage says an honest person doesn’t have sleeping mart, because people will be chasing him away and won’t allow him to stay near them. As in Buhari’s case, if lies run with speed for 20 years, truth will catch up with it one day. Why are we worried? When you are in public office, you should do what you are supposed to do.
What other thing would you say the president must do?
Well, the third thing Buhari should do to succeed is that people should be adequately paid. Wages should be adequately paid at the right time if you want to kill corruption. I am not talking about greedy people. There are people who are in governance, there are people who are civil servants who don’t want to steal but because the salaries are not adequate, they will steal. They will find a way. How he is going to do it I don’t know. He can reduce the number if that is what will reduce the problem but the people must be well paid. I have been an ambassador.
Let me give you an example of one of us who was an ambassador, I won’t mention the name of the ambassador who left after two months. The man has a mansion in Nigeria. He has Hummer Jeep, he has Mercedes, he has everything. He went to represent Nigeria. When he got there, it was “20th hand” car, not second hand, but “20th-hand” that was waiting for him. The car was old and battered. He called me and said, “Folake, I’m leaving”. I said don’t leave, let us write. He said “Haa! This is suffering”. So, we must look into that. If not, people will continue to steal, as long as they are not adequately paid. There are pros and cons to this. They should not be spoilt but must be adequately compensated.
Public office holders must know that going to office is not going to a fashion parade, where they display the best fabrics, best jewelry, best shoes, and using N10,000 bag. Let’s look at our counterparts in other countries, after all, Nigeria is not an isolated country. We should look at other countries of the world. This is because it is whatever pace you set that your people will follow. Let’s go back to Mrs. Obama. When she came, her style was Afrocentric style in which she likes to wear clothes that are sleeveless. With that, sleeveless clothes came into fashion. Ostentatious living and dressing to kill became the order of the day when our First Ladies began to dress to kill in this country. Ostentatious living and dressing to kill came into fashion when our First Ladies began to dress ostentatiously, from the federal to the state and local government levels.
Ankara (local fabrics) to me is N2,000 or N1800 at Oshodi (Lagos) but I went to a store in London and they said there is one stone Ankara for one thousand pounds and another one six hundred pounds. And I said what! Then I started to look at our public officers and discovered that is what many of them are wearing whenever they put on Ankara. And you now see our people trying to imitate them because as public officer, you dictate the tune.When Baba Obasanjo (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) was President and used to wear Adire, you discovered that many people began to wear Adire, because that was the example he was showing. When Goodluck Jonathan came and began to wear his Ijaw cap, many people began to wear the cap. I am just citing examples for you, that your people look at what you are doing and they will want to imitate you. If your people see that you are prudent, they will begin to be prudent. If you are wasteful they will begin to imitate you. If they see that you are not disciplined they will not be disciplined.
There are some things you can do when you are not occupying a public position but the moment you are occupying a public office, you have to be very careful. You can be throwing money anyhow. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton’s daughter got married. Till today we don’t get the full picture. The daughter got a baby and it was not celebrated the way our own leaders would have.