Strong institutions, enabling environment critical for development in Nigeria — Laide Olufemi

A Chemical Engineer who recently celebrated his 60th anniversary, Laide Olufemi, speaks extensively on the lessons life has taught him over the years. In this interview, he also shared insights on how stakeholders can tackle some of the challenges bedevilling Nigeria. ABIMBOLA ABATTA and FLORENCE AYOOLA present. Excerpts:

Kindly introduce yourself to us for the benefits of our readers.

My name is Laide Olufemi. I am a Chemical Engineer. I studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Ife, which is now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU). Later I went to do my Masters in Public Administration at Lagos State University (LASU). From there, I worked in several companies. I worked at an oil company, CAMAC Nigeria Ltd. I moved through the ranks to become the Acting Group Managing Director of the company and its subsidiaries.

Can you share with us some of your challenges and notable achievements in the past years, particularly how you have been able to cope with the changing reality of being a Nigerian?

I remember very well when I was doing my final year thesis in the University, that was 1984, Naira was stronger than Dollar. We were doing 86 kobo for one dollar, but now, the market rate of one dollar is about N575 or 584. But the question we should ask ourselves is, what actually went wrong along the line? What is the problem? Nigeria’s currency then was stronger than dollar, and I think Pounds to Naira then was one to one. So, where did we get it wrong? I grew up in Ibadan. I remember in the early 80s to 90s, along Iwo Road axis in Ibadan, we had so many industries, such as Leyland motors, Exide battery manufacturing company, Flour Mills, among others. Then we had a company producing matches in Eleiyele in Ibadan. In Lagos we had Dunlop industry. We had Nigerian textiles mill, but today, many of these are no longer there and these are the things we need. But when we do, we have to import them so it puts more pressure on Naira. It was easier in those days because we were the ones producing these items. But we are no longer a producing nation but a consuming nation. And that is where the problem is. We import everything. Until we correct this and our taste for foreign products, things will remain the same. I just hope that we will change our orientation in this country and also get good leadership. When we have good leadership, where we can curb corruption in this country because it is destroying the economy of this country, things will return to normalcy. I often tell my friends that we talk a lot about problems. It is high time we started talking about the solutions. Let’s sit down and look at solutions. This is our country. Where did we get it wrong? How do we fix it? We all see how things are operated abroad. Election is coming in 2023, what are we doing to fix the problem? Do we all sit down and fold our arms?

What has life taught you in the last 59 years of your existence and what advice do you have for the younger generation?

My advice to the younger generation is this, we all know the country right now is in a mess, no doubt about that. For the past one week, we have been operating on generator. There is fuel scarcity and insecurity here and there, but I believe that we should put our trust in God. The younger generation should not lose hope. They should understand that we are all stakeholders in this country. We must all come out and see how we can salvage the situation in the country.

In recent times, there has been a surge in insecurity, such as ritual killings, kidnapping, in the country? What can the government do to mitigate these issues?

Every government has the responsibility of providing enabling environments for its citizens such as security, welfare, creation of jobs, and good infrastructure, among others. The question is, why are some of the undergraduates involved in cybercrime and internet fraud popularly known as “yahoo yahoo”? It is because of the mentality of quick money, but I believe that if we can all come together things can be better. Our churches and mosques have a role to play in this. Let these people know and understand that consequences of their actions. When we were young, our parents inculcated that fear in us. When I was much younger, whenever I was going to school because I attended a boarding school,  my father would tell me, “Remember the child of whom you are.” What he was saying in essence was, I must protect that name. And that has been with me since my years on earth. That name must be protected. How do I protect it? I won’t do anything that my father would not be happy with or that my God will not be happy with. I won’t do anything to soil my name and reputation. I have my integrity to protect. But in a situation whereby people don’t give a damn, people get rich over night and nobody questions them, we even encourage them by giving them titles. We need to question people’s source of wealth. You see a university student who is doing nothing but riding a car of about 10 million naira and you wonder where the money is from. We need to question these people. How did you get it? What’s your source of income? We also need to probe people who are corrupt. We see people that are being accused of corruption and are taken to court, but at the end of the day, they walk freely. But when someone is caught for stealing public funds, it is the government’s responsibility to really investigate and charge the accused to court. And if the person is found guilty of the offence, the government must take necessary actions so it can serve as deterrent to other people. We must have strong institutions, and that is what is helping the advanced countries. Strong institutions will ensure that no matter who you are or highly placed you are, when you don’t obey the law, you will be punished or go to jail for the offense committed. But in Nigeria, it us not so, and we need to correct this situation so we can have a better society because we need a better society. And we also need God in our lives.

What advice do you have for parents? How best can they bring up their children?

What values are we giving to our children? Today, many parents unashamedly encourage these vices. For instance, parents pay for answers to questions when their children are sitting for examinations such as West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) and so one. During my time, if your teacher beats you, you dare not report to your parents. If you do, they will accompany you to school the following day and tell the teacher to beat you again. But today, the opposite is the case. Parents will even beat up teachers and insult them for reprimanding their children when they err. Neighbours were also involved in the process of raising a child then. If our neighbours noticed any bad behaviour, they would report to our parents. Then, neighbours were truly their brother’s keeper. With these, you will not even want to misbehave. Unfortunately, things have gone haywire today. Also, parents should lay good examples because the children you want to advise are watching you. They watch how you relate with your spouse. You cannot give what you don’t have. So, lay a good example for your children.

What do you look forward to have achieved in the next five to ten years? 

I believe that anywhere you are, you must make a positive impact. Where I work, and in everything I do, my integrity is very important to me. In my former place of work, I initiated a lot of things like the CAMAC cooperative scheme. I discovered that most staff whenever they wanted to pay their rents or buy property, they would rush to the office in search of loans. At times, they go to banks where the interest rate is on the high side. I initiated a scheme to make payment of school fees and acquisition of properties easier. Through the scheme, staff members would contribute what they can afford every month. Before we knew it, they became property owners and do all sort of things without having to go to the bank. Also, the interest was way lower than that of the bank. At the company, we provided scholarship to many university students across Nigeria. We tagged it CAMAC SCHOLARSHIP SCHEME. And the feedback we got from the recipients were wonderful and inspiring. These are the kind of things I look forward to doing, making people happy. For the remaining number of years, I plan to make positive impact and reach out to people more than before.

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