By Dayo Benson & Gbenga Oke
Alhaji Tanko Yakasai was the National Assembly Liaison Officer to former President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic. An octogenarian, lately he has been a strong voice on national issues, especially in matters that border on Northern interests.
In this interview he ex-rayed Nigeria from Independence and submitted that the nation’s growth was impeded by successive military incursions into the polity. He also faulted Chief M T Mbu’s submission that late Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa died of asthma, saying that Mbu was not competent to make such statement. Excerpts:
NIGERIA is now celebrating 50 years of Independence. How will you describe the state of the nation and will you say the dreams of our founding fathers have been realized?
I think we must thank God for sparing our lives to see 50years of our independence because many are no more alive to witness this day. We have actually recorded some achievements in the last 50 years, if you take for instance the issue of education in Nigeria, in the 60 years period of colonial administration, we can only boast of a university which is the University of Ibadan and even at that time, it was a university college not a full fledged university.
Today, we have nearly 100 universities in this country, this is one achievement. When you look at it from healthcare sector what has happened today is different from what we had in the colonial era.
But that does not mean we have not recorded some failures. If you compare our country to our sister countries like Singapore who attained independence about the same time with us, you will find out that their achievements outnumber ours by far and the reason is because of consistency and quality leadership.
The problem in Nigeria is lack of continuity in polity, the incessant changes of government which was brought about by military. When you look at some countries in Africa, namely Egypt and Libya, which went through military intervention, they have suffered the same lack of progress due to military intervention. For us, we have achieved some progress but certainly we could have done more but for this lack of continuity in policy.
Apart from these, what other factors will you say contributed to the way this nation is at 50?
All other factors gravitate around the military intervention in this country, greed, corruption, indiscipline, were all brought about by the military in the struggle for power and in places like Egypt and Libya, they did not witness this wanton appearance of greed, bribery and corruption. So I think whatever evil we have in our society is directly or indirectly linked to the military rule in the country.
What of the civil rule, shortly after independence, the affairs of the nation was handed over to the civilians and talking about the Zik, Awolowo and Tafawa Balewa, they were the ones that steered the affairs of this country up till time the military intervened in 1966. In terms of leadership, will you say they provided the needed leadership at that time?
Remember Tafawa Balewa introduced far reaching political grounds. He conceived the idea of Kainji dam to be be constructed in 3 stages, till date we have only one stage, we were supposed to do stages 2 and 3. If the other 2 stages were completed, hydro power would have been enough to sustain the demands in this country.
Tafawa Balewa conceived the idea of extended railway lines in this country. He conceived the extension of railway lines from Jos to Bauchi, Gombe and Maiduguri. Other ones are from Sokoto to Kano and also from Kano to Kaduna.
He also conceived the idea of dredging of the River Niger where big ships will be able to pass through from River Niger to Lokoja which would help in transporting heavy goods and equipment and this would have eased the transportation system in Nigeria and in addition, many people along the River Niger will be engaged in meaningful employment, that was not achieved and it was only late President Yar’Adua who started implementing that dredging.
Tafawa Balewa also conceived the idea of multiple roads that will link the Northern Nigeria to Libya and Morocco which will also link Europe, an idea that would make Europe and other parts of the world come to Nigeria at a very short period of time, it was never realized.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo conceived the idea of free education for the people of his region and up till today, western education is in vogue there and the region is ahead of other zones in the country today. So these leaders laid down solid foundation of policy and transformation, unfortunately, the military intervention scuttled all these programmes.
Let us talk about the system of government then, we are talking of regional government then, Sarduana was in charge of the North region, Awolowo was in charge of the West and Zik was in the East and the regions were developing but now we have seen all these transform to another system of government. How will you compare the two?
Well, I don’t like states and I am not a supporter of state creation. Circumstances made it necessary to create state, to my mind, the ideal number of states for this country was 12, the original 12 created by General Gowon and there was cogent reason for that creation and if you don’t know, I will tell you. I happened to be an insider when Ojukwu was preparing to secede in the year 1967.
The leader of the South- South, Calabar- Ogoja river areas came to the North to plead with the Northern leaders to create a state for them so that eventually if Biafra left Nigeria, they will not be subjected to perpetual slavery.
General Gowon who was the head of state felt their plight and agreed to the idea of creating states but the North was against the creation of state. The North did not want bridges to be broken but we had a history for agitation for the creation of 2 set of states apart from Mid-West which was created in the First republic.
The 2 states were called Calabar – Ogoja rivers state, there was a memo to that effect which was supported actually by the Action Group.
Request from South South
There was also the agitation for the creation of other states. When this request came from the South-South Gowon set up a committee and I was privileged to be in that committee, a 13 member committee and some of the people that served in that committee are still alive, apart from myself, Shettima Gumo is alive, Alhaji Shehu Shagari is alive and Shau from Benue is alive.
When we started deliberations, we found out that if that is done, the North will consist of 2 regions while the South will have 4 regions and there will be imbalance in the structure of the country and therefore it was said that the number of states on both sides should be equal so we recommended 12states, 6 in North and 6 in the South.
But we were told that we cannot give the head of state just one option, we have to give him options, so we recommended two set of states. One for 12 states in the country, the other one for 2 states. After General Gowon looked at it, he adopted the 12 states system and there was a basis for that.
The people of Calabar-Ogoja are different people from the Igbos and they have been complaining that the Igbos are humiliating them even before the issue of military coup. The people of Rivers are entirely different people from those other states, therefore if they have come together, there will be no peace in that area, so they were given their own state which consisted of the present day Rivers and Bayelsa states.
And then there was a call for Lagos State, so it was decided that part of western region should be merged to form Lagos State to make 6 states in the South.
After that, agitation continued. The people of Niger who were joined with Sokoto people were not happy to be with the Sokoto people, people of Benue were not also happy, the people of Katsina were not happy to be together with the Zaria people, so because of that, states started springing up everywhere but the ideal state for Nigeria was 12.
Why is that I don’t like more states for Nigeria? It is because if you look at the budget, 2/3 of our budget in this country is going for bureaucracy whereas the idea or argument for state creation is for development, so if you spend 2/3 of your money on bureaucracy, payment of governors salaries, his house, Secretary to the state government, commissioners and so; buy houses and cars for them, pay their electricity, water, all these money will be consumed only by members of the bureaucracy that constitute not more than 2 percent of the total population of the country.
So a situation where 2/3 of the total revenue of this country is going for administration and 1/3 going for development, the country can never develop at that level and that is why I am against the creation of states. If I have the powers, I will turn the 6 zones into regions of states and let them go and mind their affairs.
Will you say that the issues that led to the collapse of the first republic have been addressed?
There was a crisis but the military that took over power then unfortunately did not come to address the problem. When they took over their sole interest was how to retain power for their own purpose. They did not come to power to solve the problem rather they created more problems.
Each time military regimes take over, they don’t solve problems rather they add to it. They came under the pretense of stopping the carnage but they ended up unleashing civil war where thousands of Nigerians were killed, multiple properties were destroyed. So if you compare what was happening before the coup and what happened after the coup, we are worse off rather than better off. So each time the military intervenes, we go down the drain rather than making progress.
Was it the political circumstances of that time that led …?
(Cuts in) No, it was the military.
There has been this argument that Tafawa Balewa died of asthma rather than killed by the coupists, Chief Mbu said he died of asthma contrary to the general belief that he was killed in te 1966 coup. How true is that?
M.T Mbu is my good
friend but he could have told us how Okotie Eboh died, did Okotie Eboh die of asthma? Did Akintola die of asthma? Let him answer those questions.
But personally, what do you think killed him?
As far as I know, M.T Mbu is a lawyer and not a medical doctor so he can’t know the cause of death of Tafawa Balewa.
As far as you know, how did he die. Did he die of asthma or what really happened?
There should be inquiry to determine that, it happened where people die hundred years ago and their body is exhumed and some scientific methods will be applied, then the cause of the death can be determined. But let MT Mbu tell us how Okotie Eboh died, how did Ahmadu Bello, Sarduana of Sokoto die, let him tell us how those people died and whether they died of asthma.
From what you read and know, what actually killed him?
That is the reason why I said once there is controversy over the cause of his death. Some people said he was shot and others believed he died of asthma. The only way to solve this question is to confirm the cause of the death of others who were killed around that time,. Second, there should be an autopsy on the body of the late Prime Minister to determine how he died.
But what I am saying is that Mbu is least qualified to determine the cause of his death. Mbu is my good friend but I think he belittled himself, he proved to be un-grateful to the late Prime Minister who appointed him as ambassador to London, the highest position at that time at the age of 29 or30 and he was even allowed to use the allowances to study law at the expense of the Nigerian public at that time. He shouldn’t have been the one to make these statements.
The period of 1967 to 79 was the period of military reign but people believe that this period was the period the nation witnessed development. Do you agree with this?
Yes, there is surely some development but the question is the extent of the development, whether we got the best given the resources available at that time. The development in Malaysia, a country without oil, was by far better than the development in Nigeria. Development should have been far greater than what we have recorded.
Let us talk about the Second Republic, the Shagari government…?
Shagari government was okay but unfortunately he was bugged by politics in Nigeria. When Shagari took over in 1979, the oil projection in Nigeria was 1.1million barrel per day and the price was about 250dollars per barrel.
By 1980/81, the projections went up to 2.1million barrel per day, a huge amount of money accrued to the country and the Shagari government embarked on ambitious programmes. Then all of a sudden by 1982, there was oil block, we didn’t know that all the oil consumed 20 years back were been stuck with a view that one day they will refuse to buy.
They stopped buying and our production came down from 2.1 to 9 hundred thousand barrel by day. The price which was 56dollars per barrel came down to 9 dollars. So there was no way to honour the obligation but those who know what happened turned round to accuse Shagari of mis-management whereas all the state governments in Nigeria were not run by NPN. And that was when the money with the federal government was shared to the state and local government on the basis of percentage agreed upon, so the money was not going to the federal government alone but was also going to the state government.
Its just like you and your wife, you were giving her 100 hundred naira for food, when situation changed, you were giving her 1 thousand, all of sudden, things gets tough and you could not afford a thousand again and you were giving her 50 naira, how can you expect that woman to cook the same food, the quality, the quantity of the same food she was cooking when you were giving her 1thousand?
Instead for them to agree that they have run into trouble, not Nigeria alone, even Saudi Arabia, the number one oil producing country in the world had to borrow money to make up its budget; Nigerian politicians had to turn back and say Shagari was mis-managing the economy and this is what invited the military to take over. We are not been fair to ourselves.