Poverty makes Nigerians sell their votes – Toyin Abitoye

Dr Toyin Abitoye is an Owo-born medical practitioner in the US, a prospective member of the House of Representative for Owo/Ose federal constituency. In this interview with Justambitioustoserve, Abitoye revealed the change he intends to bring to Nigeria by introducing developmental policies and how to implement such using his expertise as acquired in the US.

“When I get to the house, I intend to hit the ground running by effecting policy changes legislatively. I will harness the contacts I have all over the world and engage my colleagues in the health sector within the country as well, something has to change. There needs to be an overhaul, a big reform”.

EXCERPT:

Can I meet you?

I’m Dr Olutoyin Abitoye, born to Dr Chief Adewunmi Abitoye on May 1977. A Physician, businessman and politician.

I attended Nigerian Navy Secondary School in Lagos, then University of Ibadan where I studied Medicine and Surgery.

After graduation , I proceeded to Lagos University Teaching Hospital for my Housejob, I completed my NYSC at Okehi Local Government in Kogi State after which I proceeded to the United States for my post graduate training.

I trained in Internal Medicine at Seton Hall Univeristy New Jersey and I was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

I have practiced internal medicine in multiple hospitals in New Jersey and North Texas . I have had leadership and directorship positions of various hospital committees and physician practice companies in my career.
I am currently Chairman of Department of Medicine, Emergency Medicine and Radiology at North Hills Hospital in North Texas.

Nigeria got her independence 57 years ago and still the development pace is slow, what do you think is responsible for this?

We have had inconsistencies in our structure as a country and the ways we implement policies since then. We started with a democratic arrangement which was disrupted by the military and then we had another shot at democracy which was again interrupted by a dictatatorship regime. Our current structure is now only close to 20 years old. There really has been some growth since 1999 albeit slow. Unfortunately the growth was again interrupted with the advent of the present administration.
I believe if we revert back to PDP policies in 2019 we will get back in track.

Remember how we not too long ago became the biggest economy in Africa in terms of our GDP. Then we had the bad recession. Our recovery from this recession has unfortunately been very sluggish.

What are these PDP policies?

For one thing, antipoverty programs can be better implemented.
A lot of focus needs to be on youth employment. The recession took a heavy toll on our youths and as a result the degree of poverty has skyrocketed.

The agricultural revolution which was initiated by previous administration needs to be escalated and a huge shift needs to be made towards the Non oil sector.

In what way can poverty programmes be implemented?

Many ways. The ease of doing business needs to be massively enhanced not just on paper but practically. A willing investor needs to be able to enter one of our cities and build a business with much less red tape and hiccups we have at the moment. Successful businesses employ people. That’s one among many others.

You said Youths employment in a country where most of the states are owing workers between 5-9 months salaries? How possible with the current economic challenge?

Exactly. The focus needs to shift to the private sector. Nigerians are entrepreneurial people by nature. Imagine we have a booming tourism sector in Ondo state that employs hotel workers, tour guides, drivers etc.
Imagine we have a booming private healthcare sector in Ondo that employs nurses and radiographers and lab technicians etc. Outside of the government space. Imagine we have a booming textile industry devoid of electricity problems.

So, what do you observe that is making the country unconducive for investors? Aside Lagos, other states are federal allocation-dependent.

Government red tape and inability of the government to stem corruption.
I have a lot of friends with money who have indicated interest in investing in Nigeria. But with the stories we hear, they change their minds.
Stories of lack of recourse to the justice system when contracts are breached. Stories of bribes demanded by government officials in order for them to do their jobs necessary for a business to progreas. Stories of multiple layers of taxation which for the most part are disorganized. Stories of lack of knowledge of what to redd expect on the business terrain and so forth. You have to know this, every single human being wants to have it easy. But if there are consequences to breaking the law like perpetrating corruption, there will be deterrence.

Corruption trials need to be swift especially for a country like Nigeria. The justice system needs to prioritize corruption more than most other crimes. The threshold for letting corrupt politicians off the hook should be much higher than what we have now. And judges that arbitrarily kill corruption cases need to be inspected 100percent of times.

But there is corruption in the judiciary, most of these judges are political partisans, how do we overcome this challenge in the judiciary?

I agree. The Nigeria Judicial Council really needs to step up its game. There should be zero tolerance for a corrupt judge. The justice system is the last resort for the common man. Our courts need to be sanitized. Judges need to earn more than lawmakers in my opinion. Every controversial judgment needs to be investigated by a special inspector.

You earlier made mention of having a booming private health care sector, as a US-based medical practitioner, what ideas can you bring in to improve Nigeria health sector?

I hate to say this. But with the current arrangement the health sector cannot succeed regardless of how much money we allocate to it. A health system cannot work without an effective financial system in terms of payment and mainly in terms of health insurance.
I believe the government does a better job at regulating the private sector than providing services. The private sector will do a better job at providing health services. The governments at various levels will serve us better if they focus more on effectively insuring every single citizen.

The current administration in Ondo state has just launched a Contributory Health Insurance Scheme, is this in line with what you are saying?

There are lots of moving parts in the health systems such that a glitch in one of those parts is enough to affect the health outcomes we desire. I just don’t see how a government can effectively make sure those parts all work together. Like I said earlier, we Nigerians are very entrepreneurial and for the most part we do well in the private sector if given the necessary government backing.
The ideal scenario is where we have an insurance system that pays for the healthcare of every Nigerian citizen and the governments at all levels hand off the provision of health and focus more on regulating providers. The NCC has historically done a good job of regulating the telecoms sector. The CBN has also been able to effectively regulate the banking sector. Why can’t we have same for healthcare?

We have the best brains in the US health system. There’s hardly a US hospital without a thriving Nigerian practitioner. A lot of these Nigerians will love to contribute one way or the other back to the country’s health system. So if we have the right system in place, I am confident that the expertise will not be a problem.

There’s a lot of opportunity in health. We can be the hub of medical tourism in Africa with the various professionals of Nigerian descent across the globe.

So, how do you intend to come and affect your country with your experience over there?

When I get to the house, I intend to hit the ground running by effecting policy changes legislatively. I will harness the contacts I have all over the world and engage my colleagues in the health sector within the country as well.

Something has to change. There needs to be an overhaul, a big reform.

When you get to which House?

The Federal House of Representatives

OK. But Godfatherism and monetisation of votes both primaries and general elections are major factors hindering the emergence of focused, accountable, and responsible Representatives, how do you want to go about this and is this good for our development politically?

It’s not good. The point of democracy is for power to lie in the hands of the people. Our electoral laws need to be enforced. Individual spending and donations need to be curtailed. We have laws that guide these but they are not enforced. I see how it can be difficult to enforce these laws however. The dearth of the economy has repressed a huge chunk of the citizenry such that political office aspirants are sometimes seen as sources of income generation for a lot of people.

Unfortunately it’s a vicious cycle. People are poor and desperate and as a result they sell their votes and elect incompetent leaders and it goes on. But I am hopeful that people have gradually become more aware and understand that selling of votes for money has bad consequences.

Can we now attribute this style of using money to buy votes as the reason we still have leaders who are in their 70s still ruling the country?

Yes. Absolutely. I’m 41 years old and with the way things are, a lot of my mates who are interested in political office are unable to even give it a try. The system has been monetized so much that it’s hard to compete with older and wealthier individuals who sometimes are much less competent and agile. From the feelers I have, it seems this next cycle will be a lot different. I see a scenario where money will be offered, and voters will receive these monies but will still vote where their hearts lie.

So how can we get out of this and achieve free and fair elections?

It’s a work in progress. Like I said, voters are becoming more aware of the bad consequences of selling their votes. Also once the economy improves it will be difficult to bribe someone with an income for votes. INEC is also proposing some ideas from what I understand.

Younger ones really agitated to take over the affair of the government and it led to the signing into law the Not Too Young to Run bill, what is your advice for the aspired ones in achieving this aim regardless of their financial status?

If a young person is interested in office. The first thing he or she needs to do is perform a self examination to figure out why they are interested. If the sole purpose is to help the society and the degree of altruism outweighs one’s selfish benefits, then he or she should proceed regardless of their financial status. You can start by registering with a party that aligns with your ideology. That usually is free. You can attend meetings of that political party. You can volunteer in campaigns of candidates that interest you. With time, you will have an opportunity to get promoted and eventually run.

Finally, insecurity level is high here, herdsmen killing is rampant, Boko Haram is there, kidnapping and armed robbery are giving citizens unrest , where does the country got it wrong in curbing these?

One thing we got wrong ab initio is the structure of the Country. The Nigerian Police and the intelligence units need to be decentralized big time; I had opposed the idea of state police in the past but I will tell you now that my thought about this has evolved and I do believe we need that option.
If every state has their own police and intelligence systems that people can hold to account , it may help curb these.

So you are supporting the decision of the Senate to allow State police?

Yes.

But some are contemplating our governors will use it as a weapon to fight opponents.

Yes, hence my previous aversion to that idea. However, if you think about it, governors have a huge influence even on their respective current police structures in the states. There will be foolproof checks and balances that will be centralized for it to work.

“When I get to the house, I intend to hit the ground running by effecting policy changes legislatively. I will harness the contacts I have all over the world and engage my colleagues in the health sector within the country as well”.

“I’m 41 years old and with the way things are, a lot of my mates who are interested in political office are unable to even give it a try. The system has been monetized so much that it’s hard to compete with older and wealthier individuals who sometimes are much less competent and agile. From the feelers I have, it seems this next cycle will be a lot different. I see a scenario where money will be offered, and voters will receive these monies but will still vote where their hearts lie”.