By Jide Ajani
It is not every day that you meet the Information Minister, Mr.Labaran Maku, who also oversees the Defence Ministry. So when Maku met a team of editors in Abuja, last week, on the state of the nation, it was an opportunity to field questions on issues ranging from the economy to defence, power, agriculture, defence, politics, etc. Excerpts of interview:
When you were made the Supervising Minister of Defense, did it come with any new challenges; if that was the case, how have you been able to tackle those challenges?
Taking responsibility for Defense at this time is a major challenge for anyone because of the lingering problems of insecurity in our country, particularly in the last two to three years. So when I was asked to supervise Defense, pending the reorganization of the Federal Executive Council by the President, I took up the challenge with all the seriousness it deserves, knowing fully well the times we are in, and, so far, I must tell you I have been able to settle down in both places (Information and Defense Ministries), to do all the things that I need to do to keep the two ministries running. you know that information is also defense, you will eventually see that they are related in a sense. One is about defending with knowledge, enlightening citizens and getting them to know what is happening around them.
That is about giving them knowledge that will equip them to participate in governance, and to participate in the daily activities of society, and also to contribute their own quota to national security. In all of these, you need to have a lot to do with information. Defense is a different kettle of fish altogether because there, you are dealing with matters of physical enforcement of security across the country, and managing the security architecture, as well as the problems that have occurred in our society recently.
So since I have been there, we have done a great deal of work in the last four months to deal with insurgency, manage it and fight, while preparing and equipping the armed forces for better successes in the months, hopefully, to come. So far, we have been able to contain this insurgency to about two states, generally speaking. You would recollect that at about two years ago, the insurgency was almost spreading across the North-west as well as the North-east of Nigeria. We had strikes occurring all the way in Abuja here, where the police headquarters, the United Nations building, and the Thisday corporate head office were hit. In Kaduna, there were fairly regular explosions; we had incidents in Zaria, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Kano, it was almost a running battle a year and a half ago with insurgents striking in different places.
‘Hit and run’
Today, with consistent law enforcement, as well as intelligence gathering, we have been able to largely contain the insurgency to Borno and Yobe States. People may not really see the significance of this. If you take a look at a country like Pakistan, that has been under this kind of environment for almost eight years, you take a look at Iraq and even Afghanistan that have been under this kind of situation…even to a certain extent, we can look at Russia, which is more highly sophisticated than we are in terms of capacity, you will find that they are still having lingering problems. Only last week, there was a strike in Russia. But in the case of Nigeria, our armed forces have risen very rapidly to the occasion. We have increased intelligence capacity, as well as the deployment of forces across the North, and, today, I can confidently say that by the cooperation of citizens and the hard work of our security agencies, insurgency today has been confined largely to Borno and Yobe States. Before the state of emergency, there were regular strikes in Adamawa, particularly in Mubi, which is at the boundary between Adamawa and Borno.
In the specific case of the insurgency we are facing, unfortunately, we also have elements crossing international boundaries into Nigeria, particularly from Cameroun, Chad and Niger Republic. We also believe that some of those elements may be coming from some of those far flung territories beyond these nations. So because of the transnational nature of the insurgency, it makes things a bit more difficult in the sense that you could deal with a group, which is then replaced rapidly by another that would filter through the boundaries. So far, I must say that we are proud of what our armed forces have done, and would continue to work with them to give them leadership, direction and support to fight this insurgency.
For a very long time, when the nation was at peace, security was only provided for that zone from Jos, which is the Third Division of the Nigerian army. That was the headquarters that was looking after both the North-central and the north east. Today, with these challenges, we felt a need to establish a new division of the Nigerian Army in the North-east of Nigeria, which is the Seventh Division that has now been established. It is now unfolding its network across the states of the North-east; the idea is to ensure that we create the security infrastructure and architecture around the entire region, to be able to put in place a permanent security structure that would be able to deal with any situation that would occur there, even beyond the present emergency.
Is it over?
No, in every guerilla warfare, you would have surprises, where you may think it is over, and then an element hides somewhere and strikes at you. So we are not underrating the danger posed, or the capacity of the insurgency because this insurgency is well supplied with sophisticated weapons, and also with what I consider to be fairly well trained fighters, who we believe don’t necessarily come from within the Nigerian territory alone. There are elements that are Nigerians, there are those who we believe are foreign. And so given the sophistication in terms of their supplies, it is clear that they have an international network, so we are not taking it lightly and we are increasing our capacity.
The issue of the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, would have to come up here; do you now have concrete information on Shekau and the Boko Haram leadership? I ask because it is said that if you want to kill a snake, you must go for the head…How much does the government now know about the Boko Haram leadership?
When I see some newspaper headlines, it gives me the impression that they think that the insurgency should have been over. The mere fact that we have been able to clear much of Maiduguri does not mean that you cannot have a surprise attack because it takes just one person tying a bomb to his chest, and coming to the street to explode it.
You will find cases of suicide bombing in this insurgency, although it has largely been curtailed, you cannot rule out any surprise in a terror network of this nature. So it is not correct for the media to think that when we are making successes and progress, and something then happens, you now say “ah, maybe government or the armed forces is not doing enough.” That is not the issue; compare what we are doing with every other country with similar countries. It is not an exclusively Nigerian development. It is a global phenomenon and I am saying that the armed forces of Nigeria have done much more better than those of other countries in dealing with this insurgency, in terms of how we have been able to largely contain the situation. This is tremendous work, but the way we report these things discourages the armed forces at times.
I honestly think that our attitude must change. All over the world, when you have this kind of situation, the media must align with the armed forces. I know that negative news is a good story any day for any media around the world, and that was how Osama bin Laden was advertised to us, and he became a role model for criminals around the world.
I think we should report them from the point of view of arousing national consciousness to confront them, not to make them look like some iconoclasts or great role models or fighters or impossible people that others need to look at with awe. These are criminals in networks that are determined to kill and maim. If you see some of the videos we have had of these people killing and sucking the blood of people, you will know that we are dealing with serious monsters. They are not the kind of people that the media will want to treat lightly.
Do we have challenges, yes we do. The recent strikes at the air force base in Maiduguri and Bama remind you of the kind of surprises that could occur in war of this nature, so we need to be permanently alert, and not take anything for granted, even when we are succeeding. They nearly came back again to strike in another base around Maiduguri, and this time, they received a bloody nose. The people that came were virtually destroyed. It is a battle that the media needs to understand.
Theory on Shekau
Now on Shekau, we have always said it…Is Shekau dead? We believe so, but it is not confirmed. Until we see the grave of Shekau, and verify that here lies the remains of Shekau, we cannot make a declaration that he is dead. We have quite a great deal of information to the effect that he may have died. But at the same time the armed forces, the Defense Headquarters has not been able to confirm, and confirmation in this case must be definite…When Osama bin Laden was killed, the Americans were in a position to confirm it. So long that we don’t have that confirmation, we will work with the theory that he may have been killed. However, the issue is not about Shekau; Osama is dead, but the Al Qaeda is not dead. So the mere fact that Shekau is alive or not is not the issue. Well, maybe if you kill the leader of a criminal gang, you will have a psychological victory to the effect somebody has been taken away. The issue however is that you are dealing with a network, not an individual because the organisation can also produce a next set of leaders to replace Shekau. So I am not looking at the death of Shekau as the death of Boko Haram. Shekau could die, and Boko Haram would not necessarily die because it must have a network of leaders that can replace him. So we are dealing with it as a network, and as a group, not just the leadership. We are studying the network, how it operates, and how do we then eliminate it. By the time we take this larger war in that direction, we will be able to focus our strategy to deal with it as a network of members and leaders.
The amnesty option
If we go on thinking of removing the leadership alone, then we will have something like what the Americans have done by using drones to remove a lot of leaders of terror groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it has not necessarily eliminated the threat. So we are going beyond that. At any rate, our objective is not to kill people; our objective is to stop the insurgency. Our major objective is not that we want to kill the members and their leaders. We are fighting them because they are killing, and threatening the lives of other people. They have taken up arms against the nation, and we have to defend the country and its innocent citizens. And that is why we have proclaimed the amnesty offer for those who want to lay down their arms, and be rehabilitated. We will be ready to take them out of the bush and rehabilitate them. We will not kill anyone who is not killing Nigerian citizens; we are compelled to act against them because they are physically involved in the elimination of citizens, and taking up arms against the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and its people. If, today, the insurgents lay down their arms, and take up the amnesty offer of the government, we will not go about killing them. We may try those who have committed heinous crimes, and the law will take its course, but the objective is not about killing Shekau or anybody, it is about ending the insurgency, and that is our focus.
Before the attack on the Maiduguri air force base and Bama, we heard that there were intelligence reports that these would happen, but not much was done to prepare, and these guys came and made that impact. So I don’t know how the intelligence works to the point that you hear that things are going to happen and nothing is done? Also, why is it that Cameroun cannot help because we keep hearing that Shekau was there receiving treatment and the insurgents also come in from Cameroun, and we are supposed to have a deal with them? The other side is the morale of the soldiers; there are several complaints by personnel that in spite of what they are facing, nothing is done for them, some talk of being given N1,000 per day, and that if the state governors were not helping, they won’t be able to survive. The governors of the states are also saying that they carry the burden of the fight more than the Federal Government, yet there is a one trillion naira budget. These are very disturbing assertions…
First of all, there are so many rumours going round; there will be lots of rumours in any venture of this nature. People will tell you stories, and say this and that is what they have heard. They will even make telephone calls to people. If you are in your newsroom, and somebody calls to say he is SSS, fine. The point I am making is that intelligence is the core of every fight against terror. If you don’t get your intelligence right, it will be very difficult to deal with the situation, since you are not fighting a standing army. It is a game of hide and seek that goes on out there. If you look at the number of arrests, and the planned attacks that have been foiled in the last two years, even in the last one year, you will not but appreciate the high level performance of our intelligence. I am just telling you this, not because I am in government or in the Ministry of Defense. I think that, fairly speaking, our intelligence has been very successful. That is why when they came to Apo, here, some elements were arrested. And this is the problem, there is too much politics coming into this because your last question is about the politics now, whether it is the state or Federal Government that is funding the effort. That politics, we must keep out because if we don’t keep it out, it will haunt all of us. It is not about political parties and all of that; if you notice, in this insurgency, we have decided and ensured that it is the (Defense) headquarters talking about it, so that we take politics out of it.
In the area of intelligence gathering, I believe that we have done a great job; I don’t know what your source has or his sources. But I want you to be careful with some of the information you have; I can tell you that there were some theories that Americans had intelligence before September 11. Have you read those theories? They are theories, that Americans had intelligence before 911 and that it could have been stopped. So intelligence follows different channels. First you have a source, you get the information, and then you distill it. There is also intelligence with which someone wants you to go in one direction so that he can strike in another. All these things happen, so I think we should limit ourselves to the area of expertise that we have. And I want to assure you that there is no way the army would have intelligence that there is going to be an attack, and they will just sit there, and are attacked and killed. Does that make any sense to you? It doesn’t make any sense to me that I am told I am going to be killed, and I then sit down in the place and wait to be killed? No, I don’t think so, I doubt this source very seriously, and also, I am hoping that we become careful with every little information we get.
The other thing is about Cameroun; we have a cordial relationship with Cameroun. This insurgency is a threat both to Cameroun and Nigeria, and we have different capacities of handling it. I have a feeling that the insurgents tend to have more space across the Cameroun border. We don’t have the same capacities, so we are working together with Cameroun to ensure that we are able to push from both ends, and eliminate the threats across the border. Cameroun is not immune; the mere fact that you have criminals in your territory is a great threat. We are working to ensure that we have increased cooperation to deal with the insurgency, across the Cameroun border, across Chad and Niger.
A section of Nigerians find it difficult understanding the image management challenge of the President and why it is the way it is; as Information Minister, what is the cause, and what would you be willing to admit as failings on the part of government?
I cannot say that any government or leader is perfect; we are all human beings with our foibles and our weaknesses. But you would want to assess a government based on what it has done, and the environment in which it is doing it.
Sometimes, we have a good government that is doing a good and great job in a very bad environment, and that environment continues to impact negatively on the leadership, which is exactly what has happened in the case of the President. I continue to tell people, not because I am in government, I am also a journalist in this government. If I take a look at what the President has done so far, in terms of his mission and his development programme, and the actual deployment of policies, I can just say ‘look at the indices internationally’. When he came to power, it was in controversial circumstances because of the long drawn ill health of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He also came to power in a period of a polarized polity over the issue. The moment he came in and settled down, he unfolded a transformation programme.
I have continued to say it that I am ready to debate with anybody. Within the last three years, if you look at what the President has done with the Economic Management Team, the Transformation Agenda and his policies, you will find that in terms of the macro-economic management of the economy, we have never had it better than what we are having now in the last 20 years. And we are seeing the results coming; the deep reforms that he has unfolded, which are about converting deficits into opportunities for investments through creative policies that would attract investment to generate more goods and services in those areas. Consistently for the last six to seven years, the economy has grown between six and seven percent. That is GDP growth, which is higher than South Africa, Egypt that are not suffering the insurgency you are having in parts of the country. And this is in spite of the violence that greeted the elections, and the continuous explosion of bombs that give us negative attention around the world.
Despite all these, the President has continued to achieve that high level of economic growth of about seven percent in Nigeria.
Again, if you look at the stability of exchange rate, it has been the same, stable most of these three years. If you look at foreign reserves, it was about $33 billion when Yar’Adua/Jonathan Presidency came to office in 2007. Today, we are between 45 and $48 billion…
But that went down recently…
The truth is that foreign exchange is not constant; when you place orders for services such as construction and deployment, of course, it will come down, but somehow even if it goes up and down, we have moved from $33billion to between $45 and $48 billion. It is not that it must remain constant; no country’s foreign reserve is constant. What I am saying is that we have grown it, in spite of all of the activities in the economy; we have grown the foreign reserve of this nation. That is a landmark; then when you look at the capital market, those of us who are buying shares, we all know that about 2008, it was a complete crash, a total crash. Nigerians should ask themselves what has happened in the last two years that the stock market, which was so down has today, grown by more than 80 percent between 2012 and now. Today, the capital market has recovered and capitalization has come to over N13 trillion from about N8 trillion in 2010 to 2012. That growth is significant; the same thing with the money market. Also, you have since that in this period, the highest influx of Foreign Direct Investment has come to Nigeria, rather than countries that don’t have insurgencies or the other problems we are having… It is because the economic policies of the President have attracted those investments and made people develop confidence in the economy because they look at the ratings from Standard and Poor’s. The rating agencies consistently found that the macroeconomic management of the Nigerian economy under the President has been such that it gives the global players and the international community the confidence to invest. So we have been receiving the highest Foreign Direct Investment in spite of Boko Haram.
People keep saying what is GDP growth, if there is still poverty? That is politics that people talk about. I remember that during the last Ministerial Platform, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala had to come to demonstrate with a cake. If you ask that what is the big deal about GDP growth is, it will be about how to deal with your problem which would be easier with a bigger size of your cake. For the first time, we are seeing that the Nigerian economy is growing faster than the population growth. Over time, the resources available for us to solve some of the problems in the country would increase…
‘Negatives from politics’
Look at cement production, we are producing 28 million tons now, and we need only 20 million metric tons, so the rest is exported. We are now exporting cement for the first time. If you look at telecoms, cement and petrochemicals, what Dangote alone has been able to achieve is phenomenal. He has deployed a lot to build the largest refinery here in Ondo State, that is $3.5 billion and the investment will go up to $9billion with other networks of fertilizer companies. Then you look at what Indorama is doing in Port Harcourt, that is almost over $2billion in investment. Then you consider Ogedengbe, the Petrochemical Complex, which is being funded by a network of international investors. The construction has started and they are employing more than 100,000 people in the construction of that place. We can also talk of the Nigeria Liquidified Natural Gas, which has increasingly become one of the best on the continent, with exports to Asia and other parts of the world.
In agriculture, suddenly there is now in place an agricultural policy, which is now attracting investors, both foreign and domestic. Dangote is developing a network of factories in Kano to process tomatoes and other vegetables for the domestic market. Go to Ebonyi rice mill and Labana rice mill in Kebbi State. Go to the rice mills in Lagos and Kano, all of these have grown. If you look at the steel sector, go to Ogun State, and you will see that the steel plants have come up there. So why are we having the negatives, the negatives come largely from the politics of our country.
Somehow, Nigeria unfortunately has a very fractured political class, that continue to look at the country, only from their own side of the geography. Then there is the other faction of the political class, which thinks it is its right to be in power now, so no matter what the President does, he would be denied and attacked, and a lot of it is largely partisan. Initially, they said the President had done nothing, so I was compelled to go on the national good governance tour to physically demonstrate and verify that these are things that the President had done. Kano alone for example, go and look at the work going on the Maiduguri-Kano Expressway. We are dualising Kano-Katsina, and have reconstructed the Aminu Kano International Airport. We have rehabilitated the entire expressway from Abuja, through Kaduna to Kano. I am not talking about other projects like what we are doing in the university in Kano and other places.
The President has established 10 universities in the North in the last three years including the Police University in Wude, a new university in Zamfara, Kebbi, Katsina, Jigawa, and then there are others in I think Gombe, Taraba, Nasarawa, and Kogi. I am just talking about the North only. There are 10 universities already established in the north, and somebody will ask you what has the President been doing in the north? That is ethnic, religious and sectional politics.
When you finish here, come let me take you to the huge railway project that we are constructing between here and Kaduna, standard gauge, not narrow gauge. We are building it between Abuja and Kaduna, not between Yenegoa and Port Harcourt. The dredging of the Niger was in the works since the 1950s, nobody did it. Under the Yar’Adua Jonathan Presidency, we have finished dredging the Niger. The North is having access for the first to Warri by sea, to take goods up North. Now, if you look at the power projects, there are 10 power plants in three years, this is a land mark. I have not seen it happen in this country in the last 20 or more years that the government in three years would build 10 power plants.
Let’s note that when the President came to power, no train was moving between North and South. The whole railway system was broken down. Today, we have rehabilitated Lagos-Kano route, and we are completing the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri this year. Trains will move this year from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, in addition to completing the standard gauge from Warri to Ajaokuta, which is moving now inland from Warri to Itakpe hills. I challenge you, in spite of all the noise of ASUU strike, go to any university in Nigeria today or polytechnic, if you see less than five, six, or ten federal projects, huge projects, come back and ask me. In University of Benin for example, we inspected 37 new projects; Senate building, lecture theatres, and whole complex for bone marrow transplant. So the quantum of work this President has done in three years is awesome. And then we are changing the entire transmission infrastructure. Look at the Zungeru power plant that had been planned since Tafawa Balewa, we are the ones building it now; nobody thought of it. So if we look at the work this President is doing for Nigeria, I challenge anyone among the journalists, civil society or politicians to a debate.
On threats and inflammatory comments by politicians
Part of the problem we have is our politicians; if a politician can say if the President contests election, there will be violence…. True, this is a power game in which people are supposed to struggle with one another, but it should be about the country first? In the current debate, I have increasingly seen bitterness and hatred, based on section and geography, and the whole mantra of ‘it is our time to rule.’ The debate in this country needs to improve. I don’t know how the media would help us to improve the debate, but this problem comes from the political class, which is too fractious, divisive and sentimental. This political class is not grounded in the realities about what the future of the nation should be.
The President’s attitude is that this democracy must grow; it is the only period in this dispensation where candidates from the opposition win election, and the President is the first to pick the phone and congratulate the winner that defeated his own party. The President appointed someone that he didn’t know personally as INEC chairman, and this is someone that all of us acclaim is an independent person. And because of the President’s attitude that this democracy must grow, the opposition today has grown under his leadership, more than it was in the previous dispensation.
Who remembers that in no state in this country is any election properly held? They stage elections in states that are supposedly now claiming to offer an alternative because they are saying they have a new way of running Nigeria. That is good; but they hold elections and everybody that wins from councilor to local government chairman are from the party of the governor, whether he is progressive or not, that is the trend. Only president Jonathan could have allowed free and fair election in this dispensation because he believes there is a need to clean up the electoral atmosphere to give Nigerians confidence in the democratic process. In addition to what is in the Constitution, the President further opened up the media by signing the Freedom of Information Bill. But what does he get in return, people saying the President is weak, he is not courageous, he is clueless. What do we want? Do we want dictatorship or democratic governance? There are many who still believe that for a President to look strong, he should go about with a horse whip.
What is this weakness that they talk about? Is it because he does not shout at people or because he is tolerant of those who criticize him? Then we all condemn him, including the media; I see columns written, and if somebody does not abuse Jonathan, it is like he is not yet a journalist. If we really want the country to run properly, we should judge a leader on the basis of what he is doing, and what we think is good enough for our country.
But when I look at the elections conducted in all the states now, I am worried that if any of these people become the President of Nigeria, would we have free and fair elections? I say so because how do you have elections and results are announced even before the voting materials are yet to arrive at the polling centers. They just stay at the state capital and announce, and all of the winners would be from the same party, and nobody questions it. In one of the incidents recently, and because of the rowdy protests, there were issues. But in all other ones, it is like so long as it is not the President and his party, that have done it, then it is right.
I made a statement recently that it appears to me that there are no elections in any states in Nigeria. It is only the federal elections organized by the President; yet look at the way they attack INEC: These same people who rig elections in their states, and make sure there is no due process. Go to any state today and observe if any major opposition politician can go to a radio station and run a programme against the state governor, I am telling you, they will fire the head of that station the same day.
We know about these things you are talking about, but why is the opposition on top in terms of telling Nigerians what the situation is in this country?
There is nothing we have not done here to push what we are doing. We toured most of the newspapers, grant interviews, run programmes, and we have decided that we should have participatory activities, which is why we did the National Good Governance Tour, which was live on TV, radio, we got all the journalists with us to show them programmes for reporting. We did Ministerial Platform, where we render account on a regular basis to everybody. However, you can only penetrate some of the media houses with money that is by advertising and buying space.
That is what we are resorting to do now.
It seems there is a disconnect between the perceptions of the Presidency and what you as the Ministry of Information is doing…
Talking about the perceptions of the Presidency, we Nigerians must really ask ourselves an important question; what do we want from the Presidency? It seems to me that we are so used to dictatorship so much so that we are unfortunately unable to recognize a democratic leader. It was the same problem we had in the second republic when people were always attacking Shagari; as a young school teacher back then, we almost believed that Shagari was the worst leader ever produced in this country. But as I grew up, and I saw the progress the second republic was making when it was being condemned, I came to the conclusion that if that coup didn’t take place, this country would have gone far ahead and perhaps we would be on the same spot as some of the Asian Tigers. But we celebrated the coup in the press, with some even saying that God was a Nigerian when Shagari was overthrown. But I never knew what Shagari was fully doing until I went to Ajaokuta. He laid the foundation stone for Ajaokuta in 1980. By the time he was overthrown that project was 87 percent completed. He built the main steel mill, the workshop, and the rolling mills. The only remaining thing was to develop the mines and connect with the railways and power, so that when you start the plant, it would work for ten years none stop. And that plant is sub-Saharan Africa’s first and largest steel plant. Today, if Shagari was not overthrown, we will be making cars and sorts of machines in Nigeria. This economy would have been a highly industrialized one. But what happened, the man was run down by the media and overthrown. He was run down because of the negative politics of geography, and those who took over said their priority was not Ajaokuta. Look at what Jakande was doing in Lagos; I stayed in Jakande Estate, Isolo when I was a journalist, and virtually in every part of the city, shelter was being provided for the people in the city.
You can go to Imo and see what Sam Mbakwe was doing; in Kano, Abubakar Rimi had already won United Nations global award for adult literacy…a lot of good work was going on. So democracy works on different parameters, it does not work with one man carrying a whip. Truth of the matter is that we are in a democracy, but we don’t want a democrat as leader, who will do it like in states where the House of Assembly is in the pockets of the governors. If the President was to do that at the national level, I don’t know what to expect. If you look at what has happened in this Presidency, because of the fact that the President said let us help the growth of democratic institutions and the National Assembly has been largely free in doing its work, sometimes you go and every issue that is raised at the National Assembly becomes a huge (uproar). Don’t forget that an investigation in the National Assembly does not mean that people are already guilty of it, no. It is only a process. But sometimes, it is reported as if somebody has done something wrong already. It is not so; if somebody says Maku has committed murder, it does not automatically make me a murderer until you have investigated and found out that the person is saying the truth.
‘Pollution of the atmosphere’
But in the National Assembly, it is presented as if that thing has taken place. So because of this constant pollution of the atmosphere with partisan allegations, it, today, has become the greatest immunity against prosecution. The best way to be safe in this country today, no matter the crime you commit in government, is that immediately you leave, join the opposition and start abusing the government. And if anybody tries to touch you, it will be said that the President is fighting the opposition. So anybody in the opposition today is clean; he is a saint, no matter what he did yesterday, and media quickly forgets this completely, as if this country has no records of everybody, and what he has done in the past.
I think we have an attitudinal problem as a nation in transition, from long drawn dictatorship, into a democratic dispensation, and we don’t know what yet to expect of a democratic leader. I think the President has demystified power because there is a need to do that, and he has tried to make us understand that the leader is one of us, and not a masquerade that people should see and run. That becomes a problem and he is described as weak. Even illiterates will write in newspaper columns saying the President is clueless. This is a man that is a PhD holder and has worked across different levels with concrete achievements as President of Nigeria.
Since the President came to power, look at the way he has run the foreign policy of Nigeria. Today, Nigeria has exercised more influence on this continent than it did previously. In Cote d’ Ivoire, the President said the election results must be announced, and that there would be no annulment. Gbagbo left and we were able to restore democracy in Cote d’ Ivoire. There was a coup in Niger and the President made it clear that no coup would survive in West Africa, the people left. There was a coup in Mali, the people left because of the posture of the Nigerian leadership. Even in Central African Republic, Nigerians are already being airlifted. This is the first time when we are talking about citizens’ diplomacy, where government is deploying its resources to rescue its people from trouble spots. We did that in Libya, and now in Central African Republic. Three times in this dispensation, this country has been in the UN Security Council.
Let’s take sports because when people say government is not performing, I say it is purely sectional religious partisanship. We came back from the London 2012 Olympics with no medal; it was only in Paralympics that we won eight or so medals. The President said that was not acceptable, and he called for a Presidential Retreat on sports and sat with all the stakeholders in sports, the private sector, state governments and agreed on articles and politics that must be implemented. Immediately after the retreat, what has happened? In 2013, which will go down in history as Nigeria’s most successful period in sports, we won the Africa Cup of Nations, the Catalonia Cup, the Mandela Challenge, and we won the Under 17 World Cup with four world records. Before then, we won the senior Africa Athletics Championship and the Junior Africa Athletics Championship, and then we qualified for the World Cup.
How do you want to access a leader and his successes; if these things do not constitute success and indices of a good and competent leader? All these have happened in our various eyes, yet nobody talks about it.
What kind of country do we want to run? There is no state anywhere that can generate money to pay its own salaries. I am not talking of social services, I am talking of salaries. There was a survey done recently by Trust Newspapers, and it showed that Ogun, and even Kano cannot pay. It is only Lagos that can pay, yet all the monies are coming from the Niger Delta. Everybody comes to Abuja to pick their own money to go and pay salaries and do what they are doing, and they turn back…
So some of the negatives that have accumulated also come from lower levels of government. I give you an example, in Nigeria today; there are 9 to 10 million children out of school in northern Nigeria. If you look at Nigeria’s education policy, primary education is the preserve of local and state governments, with federal support, which comes directly through the Universal Basic Education, and money is shared to states. Since 2001, this has been the policy. How would the President today be the one to go to every local government and ask the Chairman and hamlets to carry their own children to school? But it now becomes the problem of the President, and what has he done, today he has built 100 integrated almajiri schools, and handed them over to state governments, and he is asking them to pick the children off the streets and take them to the schools. But we cannot physically enforce that without the motivation and interest of people at different levels to play their own roles. Why will a Nigerian child as of today be out of school with all the money we distribute from here. There are states that still have less than 20 percent school enrolment, when we were review the MDGs. And you know that level also determines the quality of secondary education, which is also controlled by the states. Yet, because of our attitude to this democracy, we are not holding different levels of authority responsible for national problems. We just see it as the President’s fault because we are used to one military dictator who was always sitting in Abuja or Dodan Barracks and giving orders.
This democracy is different; power is dispersed. What we are doing now is that we just lump everything together, and we think everything happening in this country is about the President, no. Presently, everybody is hiding, and it is the President everyone is concerned about, so any other layer of responsibility is overlooked. So looking at Goodluck Jonathan, is he a perfect President, no, but he has been a very good President…
What is your take on the crisis in the PDP as well as the one in Rivers, where tension is growing by the day?
On PDP, it has been a largely very successful party, the only one that has been able to run a central government for 14 years; the first republic lasted six years and the second lasted four. But the PDP has mustered the muscle to sustain our democracy for this period, which is a record for the party. It has been so because PDP is a multi- national party in a highly diverse environment. PDP is the only party that was able, in 1999, to put together all the various factions of the ruling elite including the former UPN, Action Group, NPP, NEPU and PRP.
All of them collapsed into the PDP in 1999. It is really an experiment of how political factions can coalese into one group to run the country. It stabilized the system and allowed us to overcome the kind of early challenges that the second republic faced. Now, after 14 years, we are beginning to see tendencies in the party. These tendencies also have to do with the nature of the party; sometimes, ideological issues don’t disappear overnight. What we are beginning to see today is that there are elements in the party that have placed regional politics above national politics, and they think it is time for them to have power, and they have decided to attack the party, no matter the good it is doing for the country. This is again part of the problem with negative politics because usually a party would celebrate its successes. But what you hear today is somebody in PDP attacking the party. Like the one who led it until the last convention, he now says PDP is a failure. He discovered PDP is a failure only in the last few weeks that he left, and nobody challenges him to further explain.
My attitude to it is this, yes, some have left and gone into the opposition party. When you lose a member of your party, it is not something to celebrate and be happy about, we would wish that everyone is in one place because that gives us numerical capacity. But like I keep explaining to people, sometimes, over time, you lose weight to gain strength. As you grow older, you will find that putting on weight can also weigh you down. I think what has happened in the PDP in this period is that after 14 years, the party is losing some weight to gain strength. It may not look so to you now, but you wait and see. By the time the party resolves its internal crisis over the leadership, it will be less over weight than it used to be. But once it unites behind the leadership and a mission, it will do well. If you look at some of the elements that have left, they are the most rancorous, petulant people in the party, who created the problems that made the PDP look so bad. Some of the tissues we have donated to the opposition will start causing problems in those places before long. I am sure you are beginning to see already the tempers in the places they have gone to and the kinds of problems they are causing in the places they have gone to. Some of them cannot stay in one room with other people until day break, without the roof blowing up.
Watch it, when a man shamelessly leaves his party and condemns it the following day, you will know that it is not an easy thing and you must look at his philosophy of life and what he is looking for. In this country, we don’t even care to give account of peoples attitudes and temperament. Today, they have migrated and we are already beginning to see the kinds of problems they have migrated with into their new party. For the rest of us who believe in the PDP, which remains the only party in Nigeria today that is multi-religious, multi-ethnic and national (we are looking forward). If you look at the crisis in the country, the religious violence and so on, none of them is in a PDP state, and it cannot be an accident. Check it out, I don’t want to mentions names, you will see that none of the places where we are spending money to fight insurgency and extreme violence resulting from politics is a PDP controlled state.
How about Adamawa and Kano?
Kano was ANPP, but it blew up during PDP reign, but it has returned back to base now. I think the media has not studied the link between political philosophy, human liberty and peace. There are people who have very violent disposition, and we have seen that across from the first republic. In several of the instances, when you look at what has happened in this dispensation, most of the violence, with all the intensity, is outside PDP states. So if people are saying they want to offer an alternative, we must ask, what do they have now? What are they bringing to the table because an alternative party must show from they way it is running its state and affairs that it really has alternative for Nigeria. So the PDP is multi- ethnic, multi-religious and largely peaceful. It has had its problems because it was an all-comers affair; now, it is sorting itself out, and I believe with time, the people that remain in PDP will run this party more peacefully, and in a more democratic way, such that we will have more commitment and unity of purpose. And what is important is that it is not just about numbers, but the health of the party. By the time we resolve our problems, the PDP will be stronger. We may even win more in the next elections because Nigerians are wiser. All this plenty noise in the atmosphere does not translate to electoral victory. Nigerians are watching and they are seeing that everybody that left the PDP has become a progressive. Everybody that was abused by the opposition in the PDP before has become a saint now in the new opposition.
So it is not about values or principles, it all about a power game. For example, the PDP is left of centre, a social democratic party. What is the new party that has emerged? It is also saying it is left of centre. So what are we saying?
There is no ideological counterpoise for citizens to choose from. In fact, INEC says the PDP is the only party with a coherent programme for development. The other parties were simply factions where if you lost election in PDP you move there. Now that they have assembled every person they used to abuse in the PDP together and they are now moving, watch what will happen. Let’s take two states as example of what the sense of justice is like. I take Kano, the issue in Kano in the last eight years has been the opposition between Shekarau and Kwankwaso. Shekarau, out of that anger as a civil servant because of an alleged persecution, the people of Kano said to him, ‘come out and we will make you the governor’. Shekarau came out, joined the opposition ANPP and won the election against Kwankwaso. By a twist of fate, at the end of his second term, Kwankwaso won back Kano. The division between them is what has shaped the politics of Kano. In the urge to defeat PDP in Kano, Shekarau went forward to dissolve into a larger opposition party to get strength. But what has happened? The new party has now handed over the structure that Shekarau took all his life and resources to build to his enemy. Where is justice and democracy? You can say the same thing in Sokoto between Bafarawa and Wamakko.
So it is not about principles, it is all about power; so is that the purpose? If those who left are accusing PDP of doing these kinds of things, and they have now left to recreate another PDP, then what is the alternative for Nigeria? That is why in one of my outings, I called their party the APDPC. You can go and digest it because it is nondescript, and it has not offered Nigerians anything new, no platform, nothing. Honestly speaking, the PDP remains the only party on ground for Nigerians. I have not seen different values, programme or superior principles and attitude anywhere else. Time will tell Nigerians.
We are all worried about Rivers because we don’t want to see political disagreements go violent. The President has said it during the Armed Forces Remeberance Day church service that his ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian and he has proved consistently that he is very civil, and he respects human life because that is the first reason he is President anyway. So we are appealing to all politicians in Rivers, no matter their party affiliations, to understand that the greater peace of the state is beyond the ambition of any politician. We must have an attitude that shows that despite playing from opposite sides of the political game, we are not enemies.