*Insists deregulation is the only way forward
*Says Nigeria has invested heavily in education
*‘Some people are still living with prejudices of the First Republic’

In this concluding part of the interview with Senator Jubril Aminu, some of his comments came across as scary.

Sampler: Look at what happened in Lagos between the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, and the Hausas and not until they invited the Nigerian Army did the crisis go down.

Or the crisis in Jos, Plateau State, and even the Police had to give up until they called the Nigerian Army. So it is the protection of the federal government that people are always looking for and that is why I insist and believe that Nigerians (and mind you not politicians) want a unitary government.

The people are more comfortable with the federal government and I have been saying this long before all these crises started. People don’t trust their neighbours; people don’t like their neighbours. They would like a big brother to watch over them and protect them.

By Jide  Ajani, Deputy Editor

SO we should lose the identity of a true federation to be protected?
Yes, you’re right. But you have to take all these things together because if you give people what they call fiscal federalism, you must be prepared for what will follow. Again, people who talk like that don’t get it. Take, for instance, somebody from Osun State or Adamawa State: In what way will that fiscal federalism benefit them; it’s a thing caused by the long standing problems that we’ve confronted and because people are still living basically in the psychology of the First Republic, they think it is the north that is benefitting from what we have now and that other states are not benefitting, it is not true. Go to Ebonyi State and talk fiscal federalism to them, or Ekiti State, or even Oyo State, in what way would it benefit them?

We have to be honest and realistic and talk about it ourselves. People talk about fiscal federalism and they want to claim oil fields which are off shore? How can a state which was not in existence but which was created by the federal government be talking about fiscal federalism? Then they quickly rush to the United States of America and bring examples; that is intellectual dishonesty.

Every state in America came voluntarily or was one of the 13 states. The others were either bought over or conquered and that is why you have a big state like California which, if it had been a nation state would have been the 13th largest economy in the world, together with Connecticut, where you can run from one end of the state to the other, but because each state came on its own separate terms. There are a number of states in Nigeria today that before their creation by the federal government never existed.

Prof. Jubril Aminu
Prof. Jubril Aminu

For instance, Jigawa. Had anybody ever heard the name Jigawa before it was created? Ebonyi, was that name in existence before the creation of what is today known as Ebonyi State? Akwa Ibom, did anybody ever hear the name Akwa Ibom before the creation of the state? There are a number of these states created by the federal government, in fact every state in this country was created by the federal government.

The only region that was created even by civilians was the Mid-West Region in 1963, every other state was created by the federal government of Nigeria under military regimes. And, mind you, the military is a unitary type of government and people are happy about those creations. If tomorrow, you open the door for the creation of 20 more states in Nigeria, you will get them immediately because there are demands already. So, what this means is that people feel happier when they have their own units because they still feel uncomfortable with what is on ground.

So, we should just keep breaking them up?
That is what people are talking about. We keep breaking them up until even they themselves would no longer believe that they have a state. If you have a state that you can run across in less than three hours then the people are deceiving themselves when they claim that they have their own state.

Now, there are     some of these states today talking about true federalism, they are no regions. When the regions were in place, people can talk like that, but not today.

You talked about the mentality of the First Republic but you would agree that things have gone progressively worse since the First Republic and some people are saying and asking why can’t we go back to what we had before because the level of personal comfort was there, the economy was better, life expectancy was good?
Well, there are a number of reasons for what you’ve mentioned and it has absolutely nothing to do with the way the country is structured. Number one is the population of Nigeria. If you notice, our biggest problem in Nigeria is that we keep running away from the most important problems and we keep talking about other things and I can tell you that the most important problem in the country today is the population.

It is not even so much a matter of population explosion but the way things are going. 50 per cent of the population of this country is under 20 years. So if we take the figure that we are 140 million people, what it means is that 70 million people are under the age of 70. What that means is that half of our population is not earning anything. And then apart from that they are not working. The other day during the Babangida era we were discussing and we found out that in a family of 10, only one person is working and that means all the others are dependants. Why can’t we be poor and why won’t we be poor?  Who are we?  Where is the wealth?  Are we Saudi Arabia?  And even Saudi Arabia people work. Americans work; Japanese work. Everybody works.

But you say it as if it is that easy, where are the jobs?
Absolutely, people are waiting for jobs to come.

In those days you referred to, where were the jobs?
In those days we had only one university. When you finished and you got out of Ibadan (University) you already had offers of a job. Why? It wasn’t particularly because education was at its highest or because there was more money. No; but because there were no universities churning out graduates. You kindly waited for me to see those medical students before this interview.

Do you know that there are now 60,000 medical students in Nigeria? 60,000! They told me just now and they are members. 60,000!  I asked them if they were sure and they showed me the list and when they mentioned the names of some medical schools I didn’t know or dreamt that there were this many medical schools. In our own time it was just Ibadan, one medical school.

The school took about, how many of us? 50! Is that the same thing as today? We avoid the most serious problems of people not working, of people increasing in numbers and of people with the views of the First Republic: North, South, East and West and all the prejudices of our leaders of the First Republic; the ones they had to live with and we’re living with them today and we expect to do well. We will not do well.

So, what should we be doing now to solve some of these problems because I’m a bit more frightened based on the way you’ve analysed it. What should be the way forward?
Okay look, I’m always praying that we solve our problems without any bloodshed.

It’s being unrealistic. It’s being unrealistic but let it be minimal; because these things have got to be corrected and we expect as the job of leaders and intellectual elites and thinkers in the place to work out ways of solving this problems. People behave and talk like you can get up tomorrow and break up Nigeria.

They’re crazy! You can’t! Of course you can no longer break up Nigeria easily, peacefully or completely because you are not sure of what you are going to end up with. It’s no longer so. How do you start? They talk like tomorrow I can stand up and say ‘okay you Kwara people, move down south and join the west.’ You can see that the Yoruba area is the most homogeneous, they have no minorities, but even there it would not be easy how much more when you go to the East or you go to the North.

In Ogun State, ordinary power shift being advocated by the governor has become a problem. People have got to begin to think along the lines of the fact that if we are to solve the problems of Nigeria, we should solve it along the lines of one country, in the context of the advances we have made, in the context of tolerance. Like Reverend Father Hassan Kukah said, ‘Nigeria is like a Catholic marriage; it might not be perfect but it would not break up’. And that is the case and when I sit down I look at it I feel very depressed that people can just sit down and talk about true federation, federalism, Okah Agenda, it’s nonsense.

Let’s look at the issue of deregulation and the attendant hardship in a mono-cultural economy?
Deregulation has got to work or else we’ll be in more trouble. The Federal Government has said we have to observe deregulation but one thing they have not told you is that we can not afford to continue the subsidy.

You’ve been a minister of petroleum.  The refineries are not working the way they should.  We produce crude and send out for refining. What would you say we’ve done wrong that has brought us to this sorry pass?
What we have done wrong in this country is a number of things. There are lots of misconceptions and from the way you’re talking, it is assumed that if the refineries are working then fuel will be cheaper and the deregulation will be easier.

That is not exactly so and it is not true because subsidy means you’ve sold something lower than the market. If crude sells for $100 a barrel outside and I sell back to you at $25 a barrel, what it means is that I have given you $75 because if this oil had gone to Texas, they would sell it at $100. This subsidy would always be related to the world market of crude oil and not what some perceived agitators think.

The amount of subsidy is a reflection of what you could have sold as distinct from what you have sold – many people don’t know this or they just don’t want to know this. You hear people say our God-given this, our God-given that, it is nonsense; and that is not how God organizes His world. He made an oil price and if you sell it lower than that then you are giving subsidy.

The second thing they think is that if the oil is refined here it will be cheaper. Yes, but it will be marginally cheaper but not because of the cost of crude oil, or because of the cost of refining, no. It is because the freight, insurance and demurrhage and that is not a whole lot of big deal, compared to the crude itself; whether you process it in Nigeria or in Texas, it is the same cost but I can tell you why I think we should refine at home.

The first is that it would create jobs. The second is that we’ll gain the margin of value addition as a nation. The third is that we learn technology – we master the technology of these things. If only for these reasons, we should refine at home but people should not deceive themselves into thinking that once we refine at home, then the oil will be very much cheaper; that is not the logic at all and many people don’t know.

But the refineries are not working.  You would agree with me that at some point, the Turn Around Maintenance, TAM, of refineries became a major issue. Its just like attempting to service your car and then you celebrate it?  Was this not supposed to be a routine thing? What role has sabotage got to play in all of these?
Yes! I was coming to that because as I said earlier, our number one problem is poor perception and the second problem is that we don’t know how to manage large outfits. Even during my time whenever we sent people to go and find out what was happening in the refineries, they always came back to tell us that it is human problems, that it is the way we do things, the way we run the things; we probably can’t run large outfits. Our people do not maintain the things that they should maintain. When the people who built the refinery in Warri in 1990 came back to check how the place was faring, they said ‘we built this refinery 15 years ago but it looked to us like a 25/30 year-old refinery’.

The Italians could not believe it when they came back to see what they had built just 15 years earlier. I went to Milan to meet them and they came with that verdict. People came from Algeria, the World Bank sent people and wherever they went they came back to tell you that it is human problem. So when we go about boasting that we have a 445, 000 refining capacity per day it is not true, you will never go beyond 200,000 – no way.

Again, you’re right. Then there is this thing that Nigerians like to hear ‘there is sabotage.’ People who refine off-shore make money and the allegation is right because they say some of them hire people to sabotage the refineries – just as they talk about generators in NEPA.
But there are many reasons.

Again, when the NNPC people come around for their TAM and present the budget, people complain – agriculture complain, transport, roads, unions – and they ask why are you taking all these money away?  They even ask whether somebody is not taking this money away? We are making billions from this oil so why can’t we spend so much to maintain it and keep it working well – people complain. And I was one of them. When I was in education as minister and I come and find that they are spending $150million on maintenance on one refinery I would make a lot of noise.

So, when you became petroleum minister, what changed?

They all said I changed. That I changed from a socialist to a market-oriented person. These things happen but you know it is true, we don’t run our things well. One thing again is policy inconsistency. The idea was that these things would be sold; Obasanjo went ahead and even sold one – may be it was hasty but when you have a mind you’re going to sell your car, you do not then go ahead and spend N1million or N2million to fix it. You will not get your money back, just do whatever has to be done and get the car to the market. I don’t also think we have the money to build new refineries today.

You mean government can not build refineries?
Why should government build refineries? People are dying to come here and build refineries. But they will never come because you do not allow them the freedom to do their business. They come and build a refinery with $200 million and then when it comes to selling you dictate the price to me or you say I should sell and come and claim my difference from government.  And you know what claiming money from government means so why won’t they go somewhere else where they can build their refineries and make their money.

These are very serious issues and if anybody is wondering why there are no refineries the people too should wonder why anybody would come and invest in our refineries here.  What for?  Unless we solve this problem of deregulation! Deregulate and allow people to come and they are not going to come if there is trouble waiting for them. This is a country where we know what is wrong but we refuse to face it. We need to get something out of everybody because there is no way government can do everything for everybody and expect the federal government to do the job of the state government and the job of the local government.

People sit down and know that the local government chairman doesn’t work, you blame the president. You know the state governor is not doing his work, you blame the president. Everybody must wake up and do their work and people should stop playing politics.

The federal government promised 6000 mega watts by December and so if President Yar’Adua can deliver that, the artisans would be engaged but can he?
We know he has to deliver.

People are saying the president is slow?
(Laughter)  I once said he was slow for my liking but you know I have to understand why things work like that. He’s trying to bring a new system. First of all he’s trying to remove corruption. Secondly he’s trying to bring rule of law. Number three, he has this his seven-point agenda and he’s trying to do so many things and I’m not sure the team is complete yet and not just ministers but civil servants too.

I don’t think Umaru has the same psychology as Baba (Obasanjo) Baba, once he makes up his mind and gets up, he moves; that is his nature. And if he wants to do something, nobody will stop him but this man is different – 10 kings, 10 different rules. Umaru is not in a hurry to play to the gallery so he’s trying to build a structure that people can not just come and upset and change.

Some people will find your forthrightness refreshing but….?
(Cuts in) Did I look like I was pretending to you?

Just penultimate week Transparency International ranked Nigeria 130th on its corruption index.  What sort of anti-corruption war is Nigeria waging?
See, I am a medical doctor and I have been taught to teach the patient and not the lab report. You do not go round and just believe in findings here and there but you must look at everything in totality.

Personally, I do not like to be swayed by things like number this or number that on any index because it doesn’t tell you anything but what I believe is important is to strive to curb corruption but you people in the media enjoy celebrating these things from these organizations and you also seem to be in too much haste to believe these people. We know their interests and where those interests are because when their operatives in some of these intelligence agencies retire and begin to tell what they did.

There is a book called The Confessions of an Economic Hitman, by Mr. Tom Perkins, an economic hitman, another arm of intelligence, whereby they go and give economic advice to nations and those pieces of advice seem clever but after some time you find out that it has ruined you and not only that, it also puts you in heavy debt.  You’re then consigned to borrowing from them and collecting economic aid and you then have to vote along their interests at international organizations.

A very good example of what an economic hitman did to Nigeria is the Ajaokuta Steel plant. Since when did we start Ajaokuta?  It was shortly after the war, it was during the time of General Gowon. The suggestions were ridiculous, the design, the things that needed to be done, the priorities, they push people to go and build a college of technology first of all, how do you go and build a rolling mill for rods instead of flat sheet. Since that time where are we now? That is a classical case of successful sabotage by an economic hitman and let anybody go and look at that. Now, people shouldn’t go round in believing these reports. The only thing I believe in is that we must work.

You talked about the President and you said you pray that he gets a second term.  Some people out there would not share that prayer with you?
Well he’s a politician. In getting a second term, Umaru has to convince the people; he has to win the primaries, he has to campaign and he has to win the hearts of Nigerians and I’m saying if. Don’t forget sometimes ‘if’ sounds like ‘when’ and sometimes ‘when’ sounds like ‘if’. But the truth is that Umaru is not a dictator and he’s not going to take power by force or automatically. When we talk we’re always talking within the context of democracy.

But some people have the impression that this Yar’Adua government is just not fit and some people even spread this storyline that ministers don’t get to see the president; that they wait, sometimes three months.  They say ministers don’t have access to the president?
They have never been there. Once President Babangida in his time, the briefing, every week, ministers would go and brief him for just 15 minutes or thereabout. He couldn’t continue after a while because for one, there were times he was not there, at other times other important matters of state took his time, and the third point is why should a minister go directly to see the president, to bypass council.

The council is there and there is no need to shunt and go and start having direct meetings with the president.  I am convinced that there are some ministers in any government that must see the president any time they want.  Minister of Foreign Affairs, the minister of finance, the minister of petroleum; these people should be able to see him at any time in addition to Secretary to Government.

There are other ministers, youth and sports can see him, during, say a sports festival.  I believe that if any minister wants to see the president he will see him because he appointed him.

Could you help Nigerians with your experiences both at UNIMAID as vice chncellor and as minister of education?
You people are too busy to note the obvious. Over the last decade or so, crises and disputes are now with the teachers and not so much with the students. Remember in the days of SAP, one of them became a deputy governor – a former student leader. And we asked if he wanted to be governor he should have told us from the beginning and we would have made you the promise.  Before, it used to be the students now it’s with the staff and maybe next time it would be some other people. I found the job of VC extremely stimulating and this had to do with the senate; in the senate at the university, you can always find somebody who can discuss any matter authoritatively for 10 or 15 minutes and you can tap a lot from that and in our own case we had people from Asia, India, Pakistan and people from eastern Europe and you learn quite a lot.

As minister of education, I had my rows but nobody could set my house on fire; but as vice chancellor that happened in Maiduguri. I believe minister of education, Dr. Egwu looks to me to be very much involved with what we faced in our time but our challenges of those days seem to have been settled – 6-3-3-4, technical education, new universities, NUC but now what they have to do is to ensure that these huge institutions are properly managed and that they’re able to manage the expectations of students and lecturers and the society. I don’t like to condemn our education system because I think Nigeria has invested well in education, no matter how much we may have wasted. We have shown great faith in education. 60,000 medical students, about two million graduates?

But that is the problem:  Where would they get the job?
I told people years ago that you can not blame your teacher if you do not have a job. You can not blame whoever taught you how to drive because you do not have a car to drive. Then we have to battle with the government and the economic planners. People go out there and get good jobs outside and some people who come into Nigeria also find our education tough.  Just look at Nollywood sometimes, the confidence level and the way they talk sometimes, we are not doing badly from that point of view.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.