By CHIOMA GABRIEL,
Senator Uba Ahmed was the National Secretary of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN,Â in the Second Republic and was a high member of the Shagariâ€™s regime. That was before the 1983 controversialÂ general elections .He served in the senate ofÂ IBBâ€™s ill-fated transition to democracy. He later became the Minister of Labour and Productivity under General Sani Abachaâ€™s regime.
Senator Uba Ahmed in this interview narrates how late General Sani Abacha was killed by external forces and his great plans for Nigeria before his death.
He says that zoning, as is being practised today has lost substance and is therefore no longer necessary.Â He also said Obasanjoâ€™s regime destroyed democracy.
How would you assess Nigeriaâ€™s political development since 2nd Republic and even Independence?
Well, you know there are many issues in our political development.Â If we look at it from our definition of democracy. We have defined democracy as the government of the people, by the people and for the people.
However, if you look at our Nigerian situation, our democracy is highly distorted from the point of view of the definition of what democracy is. What we have today is an indisciplined, distorted democracy, that is exclusively of the elites, by the elites and for the elites.
The ordinary man is not part of this democracy and does not benefit from it. As it is, no effort is being made to restructure it in such a way that it would benefit the poor people. This is why in this era of extreme collapse of global economy, those that are at the receiving end of all the economic restructuring of this country are the poor and the ordinary masses.
Personally, I am disappointed with all the efforts being made to amend the constitution. Whenever we talk about the candidature of the representative of the people, there is always theÂ impression that an uneducated person cannot represent his people which is wrong and we keep giving the impression that the only institution that is available, that this country wants to recognise is WesternÂ education.
But before the colonial days, we have a system of education but our constitution was such that those who had that kind of education were excluded from our democracy. Now, in a democracy like ours where we have a lot of grass-roots people, one would have thought that we would find areas of consideration for such people.
Secion 2, subsection two of the Nigerian Constitution says: Nigeria consists of 36 states and the Federal Capital territory, FCT. That is not a true definition of what Nigeria is. The result of this deceptive definition is that the tremendous wealth which we have from our territorial waters which is part of Nigeriaâ€™s territory has given enormous wealth especially to their states components.
Now, some of our oil-gaining components are off shores. We have a lot of resources of fish and other marine livesÂ also in our offshore territory which fetch several billions of dollars every month. With a deficient definition of what Nigeria is, only a few states unfairly and wrongly benefit from this very narrow definition ofÂ what Nigeria is.
Some states are far richer than the others and even those that are richer, not everyone of them benefits from their resources. So, if we can generate an amendment within the constitution, we should think of narrowing the scope of bureaucratic participation of these few people that are already rich because so far, our democracy has retrogressed.
Are you blaming the constitution or the politicians for this fact that only a bureaucratic few are benefitting from democracy?
I am blaming generally the entire ignorance of our society, with our deficient definition of what democracy is all about, the negative intrusion of indeed some of the more influential political groups in our body politics.
Since the time of former President Obasanjo, the government has been pursuing anti-corruption and if you look back to your era in the Second Republic, its been corruption all through.
We remember Umaru Dikko, the billionaire in a crate, and Adisa Akinloyeâ€™s special Champagne. Do you think Nigeria can win this war when you look at the case of former governors who are running everywhere to hide from the law at present?
During the Second Republic, I was not only a Senator,Â I was also in charge of Transport and Aviation. I was therefore responsible for the funding of Transport and Aviation. When you talk of corruption in the system, you have to think ofÂ how much a ministry gets, how much money is being expended and then you should imagine, how much is left.
You talked about Umaru Dikko, with an insinuation that he was corrupt. I donâ€™t think that what was being said about Umaru Dikko was true. I know how Umaru Dikko was living today and how he was living in the United Kingdom. I know him personally and I thought by now, Nigerians would have seen him enough to decide if he was rich or lived an ostentatious life to portray that he made that kind of money that he was believed to have made.
People who have been seeing hm should testify if anything about his lifestyle at any point portrayed that he had huge sums of money stashed away anywhere. Umaru Dikko never had huge sums of money at any time and never lived an ostentatious lifestyle to portray he did. There was an exaggerated view of some of our politicians but even at that, you can never compare the activities of the Second Republic politicians from whatever party with the activities of todayâ€™s politicians.
I was shocked when it was revealed in court that a single politician of Obasanjjoâ€™s era was able to take from his own government fund 17 billion naira for himself and nothing has happened. I couldnâ€™t imagine it. So today, the political drift, the political platform and the political machine have turned into a money-making machine.
What is happening now is that as soon as people assume office, they begin to take away as much as they could from government coffers, as fast as possible. There is a great world of difference between what happened in theÂ second and third republic with Obsanjoâ€™s republic.
Obasanjoâ€™s republic was not only the worst but the most extravagant. Democracy in our era was a very decently practiced. We were sincere and committed.
I think there are similarities. Even this zoning we talk about now existed then. There was a gentlemanâ€™s agreement that after Shagari, Abiola or rather, the South would take over but that was discountenanced because then, it was almost an abomination for a Southerner to aspire to be President.
You got it all wrong. The NPN had its zoning policy. The dynamics of that zoning policy in the Second RepublicÂ was to reintegrate Nigeria and Nigerians. I donâ€™t know how old you are then. We didnâ€™t have much of sectarian problems during the NPN days. Our zoning policy dated as far back as 1987 and anybody from the South could contest and we all accepted.
There was a statistics of the various areas of participation of the various Nigerian community: East, West, North and if you look at the statistics of that election and the voting pattern,Â you will find those who voted for who. The North would have voted for Abiola to contest. The North would have voted for Alex Ekwueme. In any case, he was a good Vice President. We could have voted for Wayas, or for anybody that qualified through the primary.
What is happening today is part of the distortions of the Obasanjo era and it is the creation of Obasanjo himself. There was a misconstrued perception of what democracy is all about. In fact, what is happening is an abuse of the process of democracy.
You were very influential in the Second Republic and in the era of IBB and Abacha. What role did you play in the annulment of 1993 presidential election?
I was not influential during Babangidaâ€™s regime. I was a dutiful officer of the Senate then. In any case, Babangidaâ€™s era was a combination of governments. It was a mixture of civilian and military government. I did take part in Abachaâ€™s regime and I was the Minister of Labour and Productivity. Where have you seen a civilian being influential in a military regime?
I must tell you, no matter what anybody thinks, whatever was the limitations of Abacha, he meant very well for this country.
I will tell you. I went to Libya with Abacha to understudy their economy and then borrowed some of the economic policies onÂ how to run this country. We studied their strengths and their economy and if you look at the statistics, when Abacha came to power, he began to work out ways to run this country and was committed to reducing Nigeriaâ€™s debts which he did from $33 billion to $26 billion.
He repaidÂ $7 billion of our foreign debt. We had a domestic debt of over a hundred million (100,000,000), AbachaÂ paid it.
It is in the records and Obasanjo testified to that when he took over. ObasanjoÂ confirmed that and went forward to say they have recovered some of the Abacha loot. So as I was saying, by the time Abacha died, he has cleared Nigeriaâ€™s domestic debts and this was testified to by the regime that followed him. He has mapped out billions of dollars to reactivate the Nigerian railway and that was meant to cheapen the transportation of goods and services. He has also invested on the establishment of Media Commission.
If he were alive today, all these problems we are having over lack of stable power supply would have been history because he had a blue print on how to turn things around for good. He stabilised the naira. It is the Western press that transferred its own personal biases against Abacha to Nigerians. He refused to be a ploy in the hands of the West and they wanted him out.
When Abdulsalami Abubakar took over, he came up with information about Abacha loot in Switzerland. How did he come about that?
Let me tell you. TheÂ Jews have been hiding their assets and wealth, gold, money and everything they own that is precious since 1917 during the 1st world war including the 2nd world war, from 1917 till today in Switzerland.
They could not get assess to their inheritance because of the coding system and the absolute secrecy with which the Swiss account are shrouded and yet Abdulsalami said shortly after he assumedÂ power that Abacha looted money and that they have found out the account, they have found out the numbers and that they have found out the balances.
They were lies.
They wanted Abacha out because they wanted theÂ naira to go back from where it has come from the SAP era so that it will continue to have a free fall like we had during the Obasanjo era. Abacha did not play their game. When Abacha came to power, our exchange rate was N150 to one US Dollar. By the time he died, the value of Naira had appreciated to N82 to one Dollar.
But when Obasanjo came in, he did business with the West. He did all their bidding which Abacha refused to do.
Let me tell you something Chioma, during the NPN days, in 1992, I was one of those that accompanied Shagari to North-South dialogue. It would interest you to know that the US government under President Ronald Regan asked the Shehu Shagari government to devalue the Naira by a whopping 500%. Shagari refused on the ground that the measure would impoverish Nigerians.
He said the Nigerian economy hasnâ€™t got the capacity to raise its production by a corresponding 500%. If he had accepted that request from Reagan under the prevailing economic situation at the time, Nigerians would have been impoverished by over 500%.
The West did not only want us to devalue the naira by 500 per cent, they wanted us to withdraw fuel subsidy on all imported goods. That attempt failed with Shagari and failed with Abacha.
But Obasanjo danced to their tune and that is why our economy is in a mess. We had an economic policy in the Abacha days which was atÂ par with that of Malaysia. You know Malaysia is not suffering from the effects of the global economy. It is a growing economy.
At the time Shagari was overthrown, our exchange was $1.61 to N1 butÂ now, our naira is one dollar to N150. Things began toÂ deteriorate after the Second Republic. Abachaâ€™s regime was set to revamp things but the West felt threatened because Abacha was not doing business with them.
Was the problem created by the civilians or military regime because they are all seemed mixed up from your analysis?
Well, I donâ€™t see any difference between the military regime and Obasanjoâ€™s regime. I mean his second coming. This current administration is still on course and I will not be hasty to assess their performance. That is the only fair way of making a fair comment.
So, you stand by what you said in the past that Nigeria is being reckoned with as a failed state?
I have no regrets saying that. Our politics is leading us towards being regarded as one and so we must reconsider the way we do things.
And you think Abacha was killed by the West?
He was killed by Western agents in concert with oriental agents who were activated at the time they needed the operation. They came to Nigeria on holiday and were introduced to Abacha. They administered a drug on him whichÂ he thought was Viagra which was given to him by these agents. That was the pill that killed him.
How did you come about this analysis? Why would the West kill him?
They wanted him out because he wanted to create an independent country. There was so much propaganda about him. Newsweek and Time reported that Abacha took the pill which he thought was Viagra. It shows that they must have known it was not Viagra that he was given.
But he was havingÂ a marathon with prostitutes at the time he died?
Even then, they were used.
Abacha was said to be diabetic and had a kidney problem too.
He was eased out by the West because he wanted to be independent of them.
Some of these leaders who failed us in the past, including the retired generals now want to come back into reckoning.
What do you think about their return? Shouldnâ€™t a way be paved for the new generation?
It is the new generation that has brought Nigeria to where we are. It is the new generation that is openly stealing the ballot boxes. It is the new generation that brought about the hardship. I am old, it is not the old people that carried the ballot boxes during elections. It is the young people and I see a worse situation in 2011.
Nobody can stop the retired generals because the constitution guarantees freedom of association. If you are a bonafide Nigerian and you meet the requirements for contesting elections, whether you are a retired general or whatever, you can contest except if the people say no which they do by not voting for you.
So, it is their right. That they were military generals orÂ heads of state at one point does not mean they shouldÂ be disqualified from contesting elections. I donâ€™t know if you have heard about the Coker Commission of 1962. If you have, you would have been shocked at why until his death, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the choice of the South West.
So, it is not good to prejudge somebody when the voters have not rejected that person because, you may be thinking as a writer but the voters of this country will not be thinking the way you do. So, we should not prejudge issues.
What do you think of the PDP zoning policy and the fear that President Jonathan may disregard it and contest 2011?Â Â Â I want to tell you the history of zoning and the time limit of zoning. I am one of those who championed zoning in the Second Republic.
We originated it. Zoning is not a new political phenomenon. It was zoning that was adopted by the American founding fathers that brought about a situation where anything goes without considering its merits or demerits. Zoning could hinder a lot of people from participating in the development of their nation. Zoning in America brought about a situation where a President brought his own brother to become the Attorney General and another, a Senator.
That was John Kennedy?
Thank you very much. So, when we bring in zoning, it has a lot of side effects in the political development. Zoning in our time is different from zoningÂ today. It has been bastardised. When we were trying to look for the running mate ofÂ Shagari, we had a lot of highly reputed politicians who wanted to be Vice President. Dr. Ekwueme was one of them.
There was J.O.J.Â Okezie. There were six of them that wanted to be Vice Presidents. There was voting before Ekwueme emerged and all the contestants campaigned for that position around the whole country.
When it came to the position of President, the North had six candidates. Shagari was there. Alhaji Maitama YusufÂ Sule was there. Professor Iya Abubakar was also an aspirant. There was also Adamu Ciroma andÂ late J.S. Tarka . Sola Saraki was also there and the position was keenly contested. Zoning does not mean sitting down in one place to just decide on one person.
There must be congress, primaries for a candidate to emerge. There was nothing like preferred candidate. Zoning is losing its substance. It was not the kind of zoning we had in our time that we have now. It has lost meaning and content.