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Why Nigerians will say enough is enough, by Matthew Mbu

*Shame to those who brought Yar’Adua to power

*Reveals: Why Pa Imodu refused to shake hands with me

*On Foreign Policy: ‘Nigeria is a reckless spender’

Last week, we brought you an interview with a 99 year old woman. Today, we bring you Pa Matthew Tawo Mbu, who turned 80 years last month. This is not a season of the oldies but their experiences in life count.

For a man who remains Nigeria’s youngest ever cabinet minister (in his 20s), Mbu is lucky to have something that serves him very well:  his memory. Although this interview was conducted in his study in Ikoyi, it did not enjoy the benefit of time.

Pa Mbu had just seen his doctor penultimate Wednesday and he had earlier fixed this appointment with Sunday Vanguard.  He was gracious in saying, “I had to honour your request.” However, pressed for time with another engagement, the interview came to an abrupt end, with Pa Mbu apologizing profusely – that is one of the virtues of a gentleman.

But for the over 40 minutes the interview lasted, Sunday Vanguard was able to extract some interesting recollection of events from him. You will find Pa Mbu refreshing and he has promised to make himself available for the second part of this interview which would come your way later on his experiences during the First Republic and the real reasons why it collapsed, as well as stories of the war. Excerpts:

By Jide Ajani & Anthonia Onwuka

LET’S start with your experience as a minister of the First Republic. When people of today hear that you became a minister at the age of …

(Cuts in)  It’s not a  matter of when people hear, it’s a matter of truth; it’s on record, so don’t say when people hear; say when people read it. Yes I did not falsify the age. On November 20, the year of our Lord 1929, I was supposed to have been given birth to this life and that record has not been challenged and I became Sir Abubakar’s youngest cabinet minister; that also hasn’t been challenged. There has been no younger cabinet minister other than myself since Sir Abubakar’s appointment of Mathew Tawo Mbu as a cabinet minister. The late Bank-Anthony used to tease me say, ‘My minister who never grows old, so what are you now?’

For someone who has practically seen it all, whenever you look back to your days as minister, a public office holder, and you attempt to compare it with what is on display today, what feeling does it evoke in you?
Nothing comparable! We had our standards. We were brought up under the British Parliamentary system that recognizes probity. Public men must account and be very careful of their personal life and their conduct in private and public affairs; we were very conscious of that and that is why the difference between the set of ministers we had in the First Republic and the set we have today is very clear – nothing comparable. We had our standards and they had their standards.

Our standards were tailored to observe the rules of parliamentary procedure, to observe accountability as a public servant and respect probity and public opinion. Now it doesn’t matter. How can one go into public office for six months and ride any type of car, build any type of house, take any type of titles and they are accepted as proper?  In our time, no! Imodu, refused to shake hands with me – Imodu, the Labour leader, refused to shake hands with me as a cabinet minister.

Chief Matthew Mbu
Chief Matthew Mbu

Why?
Pa Imodu, Nigeria’s Labour leader number one refused to shake hands with me and you ask why? He said because he thought I was too young. At 23, 24 to be minister of Labour, that what do I know about labour. That I was not even old enough to be a clerk.

The man refused to shake hands with me.

But years later, I gave Imodu an honourary degree of the University of Ife as chairman of council, and pro-chancellor of the university and I asked him at that event that ‘Sir, can I shake your hands today?’ He said ‘I think you’ve grown up’; and he got up and shook hands with me.

But what led to the controversy of Imodu not really wanting to shake hands with you. Was it the issue of salary?

Yes, it was the issue of salary and what was our salary then, that he was protesting against; this terrible thing that the ministers were doing and which the Nigerian state had done and for which Labour could not just believe and understand? We were paid 250 pounds sterling – that was what Pa Imodu said was too much to be earned by the ministers at that time.

It came to 3000 pounds sterling in a year and for that he led delegation upon delegation and went on protests against us. The houses built for us were not our houses; but the people you have today have acquired all the houses. They were built at 30,000 pounds then. The present crop of people you have there now have taken over all the houses. What did we get?  Nothing! I’ve managed to have this shelter that I have; look for any other shelter in my name and you will not find anything.

Just this one house?
Go and find out.

Could you give a vivid recollection of how you functioned during the First Republic as a minister and how you functioned when you came back in the 1990s as Secretary of Foreign Affairs?

No! I have said it and I will say it again and again. In our time, brought up in the traditional British system, we recruited a retired clerk of the House of Commons to be our speaker, Sir Frederick Metcalf. He taught us parliamentary procedure, he taught us rules of the game; he taught us probity and accountability.

These things were ingrained in us and, therefore, when they talk about corruption, even in those days, you could count on your fingertips those who marked up contracts or might be identified with10 per cent; but this was not applicable to everybody.

That is one. Number two, we didn’t know that public office meant an opportunity to amass wealth – that is why’ll remain poor and we’ll die as paupers. Our own was to serve and some of us the younger ones had one desire and one desire only and that was to become intellectually sound, to give quality service to our people and that was why we embarked on reading to deliver quality service to our people, to speak for our people and to stand up anywhere and be respected when we speak for our people.

This was the motivation; not as it is today and so, don’t ask me ever to compare what obtained in those days and what obtains now. What obtains today, I do not recognize it – too baffling, too flambouyant for me to conceive of what is going on. I mean, you get a public servant that you knew years ago, or even a councillor or member of the House, he goes to the House for six months he becomes a millionaire. How did he become a millionaire and nobody is asking questions.

Chief Mbu
Chief Mbu

In our days, people would ask questions, your constituency would like to know where you got the sudden wealth from. That is the system that we knew and that is why some of us prefer the system that we knew. Today I think these people get away with everything.

How can you, for example, account for the type of allowances these assembly men allocate to themselves as they do.  A rough calculation of what these people earn comes to about N50 million to keep a member of a house of assembly. But where is all this money coming from?
I have no road to go to my village. I have no road! Yet, those who are supposed to be serving have so much money. Was that what they went there for? I thought they went there to serve the people. The roads to the East are impassable. I can tell for a fact and if you dare me go and see for yourself and write and you’ll come back and tell me ‘you said it.’ The roads are not there.

You talk about parliamentary system because that is the one you practiced?

Yes, because that is the one we are supposed to be practicing. Take, for example, this one. If you read basic constitution, if you are a lawyer or a political scientist you would have been familiar with some authorities that you can rely on and refer to in parliamentary work. But what do you read about the American system that we have opted for; we opted like apes. We don’t know the system.

What are the authorities that we rely on in operating the American system? America began as a confederation; then they moved closer to a federation, almost like a unitary government today. But they gave expression from the beginning to state autonomy, their rights, within the American union. But we have jumbled and mumbled everything without understanding. What are we practicing today in Nigeria that we want to start comparing one with the other? Is it a confederation? Is it federal system or unitary cum federal, we don’t know. We confuse ourselves.

Some people have this pet-project, Change Nigeria and it is all about we as Nigerians going back to where we started from as a nation?
But we began on that. The people you’re talking about are not saying anything new. The three great leaders we had, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, accepted the principle of fiscal federalism.

That is, the money that accrues to the federal government, the federal treasury, should be shared with a percentage that gives recognition to the source of supply and that is what we call the principle of derivation. Zik accepted it, Awolowo accepted it, Ahmadu Bello accepted it – they all accepted it. But the new comers changed the rules mid-stream as it suited them.

At one time, there was nothing paid from oil revenue by way of allocation. It was one percent at one time and during the war, there was nothing paid and when we came back from the war, they adopted laissez faire attitude: at one time it went up to two per cent, three per cent. The highest we attained so far is what we have today and that we tried to improve at the political reform conference, to increase it to 50 per cent but by graduation, give us 25 per cent derivation now and make up the difference later.

But all we were able to get, they promised us was that they can go up to 18 per cent – even to get that 18 per cent was a tug of war because they said they couldn’t add more than one or two per cent, as if it was their money.  But even when we agreed on that, we lost it because of our own intransigence. One of our members, the so called leader, one of our members, started shouting and insisted that we should all get out of the conference and I asked, ‘get out of where and get out with what’?

But we walked out of what we had negotiated and I remember making the point that we’re walking out with nothing. We came to this conference without anything and we’re leaving this conference without anything because of our intransigence. The so called leadership, poor quality leadership; a leadership that can not think!  The five per cent derivation we were able to get extra to the 13 per cent we already had would have done a lot for our people and might have, perhaps, not sent our boys to the trenches to die for the emancipation and development of the Niger Delta.

The amnesty of the Federal Government, would you say it has achieved some level of quality success?
If it has not achieved anything at all, it has at least evinced something, that something is in the pipeline. I’ve always said they should embark upon something similar to the Marshall Plan for Europe after the second World War; that we in the Niger Delta need a master plan instead of talk, talk, talk.

Chief Mbu
Chief Mbu

At least with that people will see that something is on the ground, that something is being done and, thereby, ensuring that most of these boys should have saved their necks and should have spared their lives and not go to the trenches to risk their lives before they can get development.  That way, they would be convinced that the government is listening to them, and that something is being done to salvage the situation.

This issue of fiscal federalism; some people say it is simple and that we can just go back to the basics but there are those who insist that it is not just possible to go back wholesale?

It is not about going back to anything or going front; that was where we started from. The truth is that they can do it. Those operating a constitution should give meaningful resolve to what their intentions are. They can do it. It is within their competence to do it. There is nothing so extraordinary in it. If the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria decides to give the Niger Delta a new impetus – just as 10 per cent equity is being given to the communities where the oil is coming from. That is why what I have always harped on is that we should just stop talking about resource control but we should start talking about participation in the development of the oil industry in exploration and exploitation, involve the communities, ask them to take shares, if they have shares.

They have the opportunities to sit in the board rooms and if they sit in the board rooms, they will influence management, there’ll be employment of personnel and by so doing, the communities would participate in the development of the oil industry. This would go a long way in solving the problem but some people prefer resource control.  We’re a federation, and we’re bound to sacrifice something as a member of that federation; let them have their own share but they should not deny us our own share.


Talking about sitting on the boards of the oil companies, which means participation. What stopped you from participating fully in politics and if, for instance, we then have a President Matthew Mbu of Nigeria, maybe some of these ideas may have been given meaning?

Don’t forget that I told you that the people in control, do not understand the rules of a relay race because in a relay race, you pass the baton on to the next runner. But in Nigeria, people insist on holding on tight to it because it pays them; they don’t want to release the thing. If they had listened to us a few years ago when we requested that we should produce the first president of this country, and see the change, whether the fortunes of this country will increase or diminish, we were betrayed.

When you say we were betrayed, who are the we?
The people of the South South are the we; we wouldn’t have produced anything until Goodluck Jonathan was named the vice president. I argued as a leader in the South South. I asked why deny us the political opportunity of producing either the president or vice president – at least all the other zones have produced something, so allow us. Let’s have a change, perhaps, it would do this country good.

But even then, when we produce one and one of us is there, they will go to Abuja and change the rules over night. I can tell you this. I just came back from Abuja last night. They did not wait for the traffic to get choked but they are expanding the roads now. That is what we would have proved to Nigerians that things can change over night.  Go to the Niger Delta and see development and there will be justification for it had we been allowed to rule this country. For whom the shoe pinches, he knows where it is, not just imaginary, you are wearing the shoe so you know where it pinches. But beyond all these, I don’t need to be in government to contribute to the development of any area.

Parliamentary system
Competent young men and women should be given the chance through a viable parliamentary system or call it democracy.  Let there be free and fair election, and I will help pick a good candidate who will represent my constituency and not this one being done by nomination where you sit here and you’re told someone has been elected, when, in fact, you have not cast your vote. Your franchise is denied you and the election is rigged ab-initio. Before you ever went to the polls the election has already been rigged.

Yes, that’s why some of us couldn’t understand what is happening. I nearly went mad during the first election in 1999, this is unheard off. I just didn’t know what to do. I said there ‘s no election and the results are being declared so I ran all the way from Ogoja to Abakaliki, you won’t believe it. I ran from Umuahia to Port Harcourt just to see what was going on. And I said I was going straight to Otta Farm to complain but I was told that ‘you better forget it because they all know what is happening’ and I said ‘what’! There’s no election and people are announcing results.’ And they said it was all over the country. So, what do you expect me to do?

When I conduct these interviews with people and they talk like this, I get scared.  For how long can we continue like this?
No! We can’t continue like this. You see, the great Irish orator and statesman, Edmund Burke, said this, there is a limit when forbearance becomes a virtue, there is a limit which this country will get to and will not tolerate anymore, some of these things.

There are some people who talk about the thing which happened in Ghana and some say it can not happen in Nigeria.  What do you think?
People keep up talking about Rawlings what about Nimeiri in Sudan. Nimeiri was a military head of government, he was toppled by women. Market women who said they did not want him.  There were no arms, they toppled him. I’ll also give the example of Brazil in 1964 – I was in Brazil in 1964. The national currency of Brazil was worth nothing like they do with the naira – whenever they want to prop it up and whenever they want to devalue.

Do you know who brought down the government of Brazil?
A house wife, married to a general. She went on complaining to the Army general that the Brazilian currency was worth nothing, that it’s useless. I can’t buy anything with this currency.  He soon got his colleagues to do something about the government in power. They did not change the government for the good of the General and his wife but they changed it for the good of the nation. And since then, the national currency of Brazil has never gone down. Everything else improved but the government collapsed.

MatthewMbu3Transformation of the country
What about the people of Haiti? It was a Reverend father who played a significant role in the transformation of the country. Anything can happen and I believe a time will come when Nigerians will say enough is enough, please let us try another system; you do not need to go and shoot each other and die. People will say you step down, you’ve tried, let other people try. Live and let live, you have tried let other people try.

The foreign policy of Nigeria today, for all that we have done, Nigeria is not regarded with much honour?
Yes, that is true.

Why is it always so?
It is true because we were spending without having our targets identified.You just don’t go into the arena of foreign policy without knowing what you want. People will just take away your money. In fact, they will say ‘he’s a fool, let’s take his money.’ Do we know how much we spent to give South Africa its independence? We don’t know, till tomorrow. But we were giving them millions upon millions – unquantifiable amount of money. What of ECOMOG? We never asked for anything. No quid pro quo.

The lawyers say nothing for nothing. We, in Nigeria have never recognized the concept of quid pro quo – nothing for nothing. If we had value for ourselves we would have value for our money. We can not spend our money without knowing why we are spending it or what we are spending it for. Yes, these were our brothers. They even promoted us as a frontline state.

But what did we pay to get them independence and when they got the independence, did they recognize us? In 1993, I was foreign minister when I was fighting for Nigeria to have a seat for a two year term on the Security Council of the United Nations. You know who the Americans prompted to disturb Nigeria? Guinea Bissau! Guinea Bissau is no more than one of our local governments – they opposed us stoutly. It took four rounds of balloting at the General Assembly for me to defeat Guinea Bissau. I went to my colleagues to ask what was going on but they assured me that I would get it. The first round, six votes were short. The second round, four votes were short, third round three votes were short and I screamed that I would never get it but they said you’ll get it.

At last, I got it but you know who walked across to congratulate me, Madline Albright, the American Secretary of State. She said ‘you are a very effective foreign minister for your country, congratulations.’ And I said ‘after your mischief’. So, until Nigeria realizes that you deal with people of integrity at that level and you must identify what you want, you will keep wasting your time and money for nothing. Most African nations find Nigeria as a country where the largesse is coming from. Didn’t we use to be so hospitable that the beds some foreign heads of state slept on they took them away and we gave them. Quid pro quo is the answer and unless we do that, we would be fooling ourselves. First we began by saying Africa is the centre piece of our foreign policy.  What does that mean?  Does it make sense to anybody?  How do you define it?

Between 1999 and 2007, we had a civilian government in place and for the first time we broke the jinx of not being able to transit to another civilian government.  But some people are of the view that those eight years were wasted.  What do you think?

I am a Nigerian like you and many have their own assessment of the period from their own experiences. While some can see success, some see failure. But there will be few who will have opportunity to carry out the reforms that Nigeria needed. There will be few who will have the opportunity and the goodwill from the electorate from the two parts – civilian and military – than President Olusegun Obasanjo. But whether he made good use of that period I don’t know but there was none in living memory that I would say had as much goodwill as he had.

What you have said leaves me neither here nor there and I would want you to explain?

I believe that’s the best way to put it so that you can assess him whichever way you like. Whichever divide you want to go to but I am saying that if anyone had the opportunity to change the country, Obasanjo had the best opportunity. Now, whether he made the best use of it or not is another matter entirely.

President Yar’Adua has come with his own due process and rule of law, but his health seems to be failing, what do you make of it?

You see, President Yar’Adua, by his own testimony, never sought power but it was imposed on him. Isn’t it Shakespeare who said some are born with it, some acquire it, some have it imposed on them. I think those who brought him to power, those who put him there are the ones to blame. He was quite satisfied the way he was. Those who brought him there should be held responsible. They put him there and if they can not help him to make a success of it, it is a shame to them. It is a shame to them.

Transparency International placed Nigeria as the 130th country on their corruption index, what does that say of Nigeria’s anti-corruption war?

Not only that, Obasanjo was a prominent member of that body, what happened? Nigeria’s membership of that body, has it translated into anything, or elimination of corruption in Nigeria? I don’t know.

The amendment of the constitution is being beaten back and forth and some people are wondering whether, indeed, we want to amend the constitution?  Those benefitting from the constitution as it is, would fight back?

These people are not talking about amendment.  They are talking of wholesale review of the constitution and I ask myself, have they the competence to review the constitution?  Or do they have the mandate to rewrite the whole constitution? Why not tackle the possibilities? I think it was the French man, the French General…
De Gaulle?
No!

Okay, Napoleon Bonaparte?
Yes! It was Napoleon Bonaparte, who said, “the possibility we can tackle, the impossibility can wait.” Why don’t we tackle the possibility now because of the loopholes in the constitution? Why  talk about the wholesale review now, about the elections which would hold in a matter of months? What time do they have? How many of them are scholars of constitution making? How many of them are constitutional experts. I’ve always said they should identify for us the ones that they think should be amended first? I doubt if they are ready to amend the constitution.

You said before your votes were cast the other day, results were being announced but some how, the reform proposal by the Uwais Committee is not being taken wholesale by this government?
You are asking the obvious. If you are benefitting from a system, you the beneficiary can not see anything wrong in it. Even when everybody is clamouring for change, you the beneficiary would never see anything wrong with it and you would not surrender the privilege. Make no mistake about it. No one would surrender power without a struggle. You have it, you want to keep it.


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