Osagiede Ogbewekon Wisdom is a retired military personnel who served in the United States Army for well over 29 years. Born and bred in Nigeria, the firmly educated soldier from Benin City, rose to the rank of Colonel, after climbing the ladder with a heavy bag of experience hanging on his shoulder. After almost three decades in studying and experiencing leadership within the world’s most enviable and strongest military, including successful operations with the United Nations system, Osagiede has resolved it is time to give back to his country, Nigeria. To the Nigerian who says his lifetime ambition is to turn the West African nation into the world’s most enviable democracy and most sought-after destination, changing Nigeria would be best implemented from Aso Rock. The USA-based son of Benin City is therefore aspiring for a flag which he hopes to bear to the 2023 Presidential elections. Before the primaries from where Osagiede hopes to emerge, the ex-soldier, now civilian, is tasking himself to clearly explain his mission to Nigerians, so they can see sufficient reason why they should give him a mandate to carry their aspirations to where they are aiming. In an interview prior to the official declaration of his willingness to run for the Nigerian presidency, Osagiede explains why he thinks the destiny of Nigeria between 2023 and 2027, at least, for the first term, should be entrusted in him. He also explains how he thinks this venture is possible for a Nigerian who has spent most of his working life abroad. The Houston, Texas-based presidential aspirant spoke to international Journalist, Ernest Kanjo of Apex 1 Radio and Gabriel Enogholase of The Vanguard. Excerpts!
Ernest Kanjo: Could you tell us more about retired Colonel Wisdom M. Osagiede Ogbeowemwenkon Osemwende?
Osagiede Ogbeowemwenkon : Absolutely! I grew up in Lagos where I went to primary school. I later went to secondary and high school in Benin City. When I travelled abroad, I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Business, Master of Arts in Mass communication and recently finished my PhD in Public Policy and Administration. I spent a bulk of my working years in the U.S military. In fact, I got into the U.S military in 1987 and only retired in 2016. During my time there, I journeyed across the field with countless leadership positions and operations across the world. Some of the most significant assignments in the U.S military were the expeditions in Iraq and my trips to several places around the world for humanitarian services. I also went back to rebuild Iraq after the war. I did same to many other countries that had been destroyed by war. I worked for the US diplomatic missions in Uganda, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was the first US Officer to train the National Emergency Management Agency, known as NEMA in Nigeria. I trained senior Nigerian military officers and senior civilian executives on disaster relief and pandemic response. As a civil affairs officer within the U.S military, I travelled across the world providing social services to populations. These trips took me to orphanages and highly needy communities. I piloted the project for a network of Non-Governmental Organizations that converged on Iraq for post-war development efforts. I trained Iraqis on local governance.
Ernest Kanjo: You have lived most of your working life abroad – how much of Nigerian do you know?
Osagiede Ogbewekon: I have virtually lived all my working life abroad, like you mention. However, I have always been actively present in Nigeria, as far as everything is concerned. Since I relocated, I have kept in touch with my country by visiting Nigeria every single year. I do not only travel home annually, but I make trips to different parts of Nigeria during my visits there. This has been going on since I moved abroad. Nigerians know me, I have friends everywhere in the country and I have family there. I read Nigerian papers regularly, listen to Nigerian news on radio and watch it on TV. I am abreast with the happenings in my country. Most importantly, I have always been involved in the development of Nigeria and have made frantic contributions to the social and economic growth of the country. I personally provide support to many families by way of paying school fees and the provision of some basic needs. I have always donated working tools to hard working individuals to help grow their businesses, especially at subsistence level.
Ernest Kanjo: For how long have you nursed ambitions of running for president in Nigeria?
Osagiede Ogbewekon: As a little boy growing up quite close to my father, he emphasized the importance of education. He never failed to do so. My father was a civil servant in the colonial era. This probably explains why he was an unrepentant lover of education. He would explain to me that with a sound background in education, I could easily become the number one executive officer in mighty Nigeria, why not. This encouragement stemmed from my interest in governance which I expressed each time I saw a member of the Nigerian government riding across the city. I soon noticed myself not only becoming familiar with these people, but nursing ambitions of getting into a position of leadership someday. However, it is after I had served in other capacities and retired, that I have decided run for office for the first time.
Ernest Kanjo: Nigeria has a history of being run by military leaders – first, what is your take on having uniform people in power?
Osagiede Obgewekon: The military is not designed to rule or be in power. Its responsibility is the protect the territorial integrity of the country against enemy forces, both internally and externally. That does not however mean leaders who hail from a military background are incompetent. Rather, military personnel have a strong foundation in administration. The United States military is a great example of excellence in administration. If there is one thing I have benefitted more from the U.S military, it is good administration. While we are still serving, we are not meant to run for political office and get in power, even with great administration skills. So, having retired from the military with these skills, I think the right place to exercise them is at the helm of Nigerian administration.
Ernest Kanjo: In your own understanding, how would you describe Nigeria 50 years after independence?
Osagiede Ogbewekon: Fifty years after independence, Nigeria still has a very long way to go. The country has made some frantic efforts in every area of life, including democracy. The fact that Nigeria can organize and run elections where the people elect their leaders and life moves on, is a great achievement. That Nigeria is the biggest economy on the continent, is a fact we cannot take for granted. That we can point at some great road infrastructure and modern bridges, is something to be proud of. In the past three decades, Nigeria has produced a amazing number of intellectuals, thanks to the country’s enviable universities. That should make every Nigerian a happy man. With a film industry that has helped to employ Nigerians and standing tall as the second employment sector, one can only raise their thump up. I can go on and on. However, Nigeria has not had the score we would have expected since gaining independence. We still have development issues such as poor farm to market roads, inadequate health infrastructure, poor maintenance culture and lack of classrooms and other learning materials in our schools. Socially, Nigeria still swims in poverty, unemployment, and disease and many other things I will be addressing in my campaign.
Ernest Kanjo: These issues you have raised and perhaps more, have been highlighted by every presidential hopeful over the years. Yet, victorious ones have come to power, governed, and left without properly solving these problems. Why do you think there is this stagnation?
Osagiede Obgewekon: The refusal to share notes is the root cause of this stagnation. By that, I mean successive governments have preferred to start things all over and only implement their plan, than continuing from where their predecessors ended. When you operate that way, you are indirectly rubbishing some good work already done. It is not everything about a previous administration that is bad. Governance and development is continuous – you simply continue from where your predecessor ended and your successor will go on from where you stopped. Isn’t it one country, made up of one people, with one dream? America and other great nations believe strongly in the system of sharing notes – you explain what you have done, where you ended and hand over the tools for me to continue. I can start implementing my plans when I would have completed the work you didn’t complete at the time you were leaving. That is how a country should be run.
Gabriel Enogholase: You have declared your intention to contest the presidency of Nigeria in 2023. Do you have the financial muscle to do so?
Osagiede Ogbewekon: Not yet! I will declare that soon, but for now, I would want to say God will provide the finances required to take up and complete this journey. At this juncture, I can confidently say I’m the most experience candidate in the race, based on my experience in international interactions through the United States government.
Gabriel Enogholase: Which of the major political party do you want to contest, and have you register a member of the party?
Osagiede Obgewekon: I would like to contest under the All-Progressive Congress, APC which is currently in power. I am gunning for APC because of the party’s stability. Also, the party has been noted for bringing forth the necessary change which Nigeria had longed for. APC has righted the wrongs of the past and that inspires me a great deal.
Gabriel Enogholase: What will you say about the mode of selecting our leaders, direct or indirect primaries?
Osagiede Obgewekon: It’s difficult to monitor the direct primaries, unlike the indirect. I’m however very comfortable with direct primaries because everyone takes part in the process. It is more democratic.
Ernest Kanjo: How would you assess the Defense & Security situation of Nigeria?
Osagiede Obgewekon: The security situation in Nigeria, from every indication, is a great concern of the current administration. The Chief of Defense Staff, General Irabor is a man of great honor – a very dignified gentlemen and hard worker. He is a defense professional I have trailed since the days of Boko Haram. He put up a great performance at the Northeastern region of Nigeria. I must applaud his good work and commitment to see the security situation of the country improve tremendously by the day. By the way, I would retain him when I get in office. Nigeria is vast and to have the country’s security under total control requires much work. However, what I would say with sincerity is that there is still much work to be done. The Nigerian military deserves far more than what it currently has. There is need for great motivation in terms of salaries and welfare package. That means pay rise needs to be an urgent assignment for any next administration. Secondly, the military in Nigeria needs to be equipped with up-to-date working tools. Thirdly, Nigeria needs a properly trained military, ready to deploy within 24 hours. Also, a high degree of discipline needs to be buttressed in the ranks of the military, plus other reforms. To achieve these, the military budget needs to be handsome. My years of experience in the world’s most advanced and equipped military, give me the audacity to make these reforms in Nigeria.
Gabriel Enogholase: Nigeria now is faced with insecurity problems with the Boko Haram, banditry, kidnappers holding sway in different parts of the country. As a retired Untied States military officer, what is your advice to the Federal government?
It would first say the Federal government should modernize the Nigerian military and security agencies. This can be done by recruiting more personnel, for, the strength of every military, is also the number of men and women in the force. The military should be restructured. Also, by providing adequate and more strategic training, the men in uniform could handle these crises in a more apt manner. The Nigerian miliary should be well furnished with state-of-the-art equipment. It would certainly perform better with an improved welfare package. The security budget also needs to be inflated.
Gabriel Enogholase: The Federal government recently acquired the American made Tucano fighter jets. Do you think this can change the tide of the war?
Osagiede Obgewekon: I’m quite familiar with the Tucano which is also known as A-29. It uses a turbo engine. It flies low and aims at its target. It can operate two missions – as a fighter jet and conducting racon operations. The Tucano is excellent on rough terrains. You know, Tucano can only provide the results if the soldiers using it are adequately trained. So, Nigerian soldiers need to be trained to the extent where a private solider can request air support from the mission station and the former will not be referred to the higher headquarters. In the U.S, you may like to know, a private soldier can request air support during combat operations and get it within five minute at the grid coordinate.
Ernest Kanjo: Tell us about the Nigerian police and your vision towards this corps.
Osagiede Obgewekon: A country with a strong internal security set-up, is a successful country. The Nigeria police, I would say, is far more advanced than those of other countries in Africa, but it is not where it should be today. There is a dire need for a lot of improvement. First, the Nigerian police needs pay rise as a matter of urgency. Most of the problems that have pinned this corps to the ground, have stemmed from inadequate pay. The police should not appear as a beggarly corp. It is not only a respectable profession, but officers are men and women who should feel proud to protect citizens of their country. For them to function properly, they need to be motivated with better a welfare package. Also, and most importantly, I will abolish the barracks and implement community policing. That is my vision for the Nigerian police.
Gabriel Enogholase: Nigeria’s economy has been reliant on the petroleum sector for a while. Is that where your heart beats more?
Osagiede Ogbewekon: Surprising no! My focus will be agriculture. Nigeria has exploited this sector sufficiently, whereas it is potentially the country’s economic solution. We need to get back to the farms and produce food and cash crops. Nigeria has the soil, and we can cultivate crops that can be exported with a comfortable return on investment for the country’s economy. We will embark on mechanized agriculture as well and provide financial and material support to farmers. My administration will encourage the Southeast region to get fully involved in manufacturing agricultural machinery.
Gabriel Enogholase: Tell us about your plans to improve the health sector.
Osagiede Ogbewekon: We will start by working assiduously on health infrastructure. We will set up health centers in most villages across the country. There will be centralized clinics for small neighbouring communities. The existing infrastructure will be improved upon. My administration will introduce a well-organized and affordable health insurance policy across Nigeria. There will free medical treatment for Nigerians who cannot afford. I will leverage this from my experience in the United States.
Ernest Kanjo & Gabriel Enogholase: Nigeria, just like other African countries, is made up of different ethnic groups. It is not all the time that these groups interact peacefully. In fact, the country has witnessed some ethnic clashes in the past, some of which have been bloody. What is your provision for ethnic division?
Osagiede Ogbewekon: First, I will organize a high-level summit for leaders of the three major tribes in Nigeria, that is, the Yurobas, the Igbos, the Hausas and Fulanis. Discussions at this summit will focus on ways they can live together convivially. My administration will encourage patriotism and let people know they are Nigerians and only belong to Nigeria. They must have the country at heart. It is by loving each other that they will love Nigeria. We will want Nigerians to see themselves as Nigerians and not as Yorubas, Igbos, Hausas and Fulanis.
Gabriel Enogholase: What will be your major areas of focus if elected president?
Osagiede Ogbewekon: I will be very strong on defense and security. As soon as I am elected, I plan to organize an economic and security summit with the United States government, if elected. At this summit, we will request the United States’ help in modernizing livestock which will be beneficial to the Fulanis. This would replace the nomadic way of grazing that appears to cause a lot of security problems. This and many more things I would do with the US, will improve, and strengthen the relationship between both countries. Every Nigeria shall be free to move about and carry out their duties. This can only happen when there is total security. To that effect, security will be my major focus. I will face security head-on and make it difficult for intruders to beat the system. To fight against terrorism, I will erect a wall along all Nigerian borders. There will only be a one-way in and one-way out of Nigeria. This, I believe will make things difficult for terrorists who move out of the country, train, and return to cause havoc. Be rest assured that Boko Haram will cease to exist once I get in office. My inspiration here is General Collin Powell’s war doctrine which will be forced on the terrorists and bandits. You can refer to my July 14, 2013 interview with The Vanguard newspaper. I will pay a very close attention to defense. I will be very involved in the defense of Nigeria. My administration will combat poverty by introducing programs that will uplift suffering. We will also focus on education by providing free schooling in the primary and secondary level. Identification of Nigerians is primordial, so we will ensure that everyone has an ID card. We will support those who cannot afford it. Meanwhile, we will create a national database for identification cards where the biometric fingerprint will help us detect criminals.