By Sam Eyoboka
ALHAJI Dauda Birmah, former Education minister in the Abacha regime and commissioner, Federal Character Commission between 1995 and 2001, is currently aspiring for the position of president on the platform of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP).
In this interview, Birmah, stressed that corruption has wreaked a serious havoc on the Nigerian nation. He believes he has the solution for the nation’s multifarious problems. Excerpts:
There is this allegation that ANPP is has not been playing the role of an opposition and that the series of crises that have been rocking the party have not placed it on a right footing to offer a better leadership than the PDP. What is your reaction?
The crises recorded in our great party are not exclusive to ANPP. The ruling party has a dose of it also. But I want to tell you that the new leadership of the party headed by Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu has determined to give a positive direction. In the first place I decided to join the party in 2001 because I looked at the PDP and discovered there is nothing more it can offer. Some people in the party decided to join in the PDP-led government in what they termed as unity government.
But some of us did not buy that idea. The new leadership of our party does not subscribe to such an arrangement, the new leadership wants to do things differently. Our party has been positioned for better; we are not just trying to play the opposition role but to take over the reins of power at the centre. We are going to win the next election.
Do you think you have any chance of winning the nomination of your party?
Yes, there are other aspirants in the party and every one of them is a force to reckon with. I cannot tell you categorically that I am going to win the nomination, but I am hopeful that the ANPP delegates will vote for me. If I win, I am going to make fundamental changes in government.
It is said today that corruption is about the greatest challenge of this country. What is your take?
Corruption remains the greatest problem of this country. The first thing any person who wants to retrieve this country will do is to fight corruption. This corruption has continued to wreak a terrible havoc on the country.
This corruption has hindered the development of all the sectors of the nation’s economy. The problem of corruption is responsible for the decay in education, the level of unemployment and general poverty in the country. We must fight this monster which has created unemployment.
All our money is going to foreign banks and is being held hostage there. If you bring all that money here it will go a long way in reducing the level of poverty. The economy was far better in the Abacha days. His regime was not a bad government contrary to what some people were saying after his death, they started to invent lies against him.
At his death, we had $8, 9 billion as foreign reserves, but the regime that succeeded him handed over $3.4 billion. In his days, it was N78 to a dollar, but he was targeting N62 per dollar before he died. How much is it today?
Even the money they recovered after Abacha’s death where did they keep it. It is the same corruption. We must be sincere in the fight against corruption. The EFCC and other related agencies must show more commitment. If you fight corruption in the day, and sleep with corruption at night, that is not fighting corruption. We must send PDP on sabbatical in 2011.
Despite the amnesty deal and the fact that Goodluck Jonathan from the South-South is the president of the country, yet there are still bomb blasts. What is your reaction to this?
The moment people feel excluded they become violent. If their agitations are not listened to, they begin to throw bombs. If they are excluded from governance they continue their agitation. What the government should do is to find out why they still plant bomb even after they said there was an amnesty.
The question is what the states in the Niger Delta have done to improve the living standard of people in the zone, what of the local governments, and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The bombs have continued even now, do you know the contents and level of implementation of the amnesty deal? It is a matter of looking at the programme again and making sure it is not cosmetic but real amnesty, then you will be taking care of that threat.
Do you believe in the PDP zoning arrangement and where does that leave you as an aspirant under ANPP?
The zoning problem of PDP is one area I want to steer clear of. They created the monster called zoning and it is going to consume them and I am not qualified to comment on that. Let them stew in their own juice. I am in the race because I believe I have something to offer. Power can go to anywhere. I am from the North and want to win, any other person can still contest, it is a free ticket, after all, we are in a democracy.
What are your dreams for Nigeria assuming you are voted into power as president?
I have watched with sadness how our dear country has drifted over the years back to the Dark Age. Electricity is almost non-existent. If voted into power, I will tackle the problem of corruption, number two, revive education sector that has totally collapsed. To get the country on its feet, we must revamp our educational system.
If you invest in education, you produce engineers, doctors, teachers and experts who will join hand to move the nation forward. I was the education minister for seven months and I said Nigerian educational system was bastardised by satellite campuses. I was the first person to notice that. Today, we have Open University system.
I also introduced the French Language policy so that every Nigerian can have the opportunity to be bi-lingual. When I left office it was abolished. If I am elected president, I will reintroduce it. I also brought focus on Teacher education so that you first of all produce teachers who will teach others. Building schools without the people to teach is an effort in futility.
I shall also pay serious attention to power and energy. We have gone back to the Dark Age where there is no electricity to drive businesses. You know if there is constant electricity, crime level will reduce because small businesses will be on to reduce unemployment. We shall also harness the gas resources and put it into use instead of the constant gas flaring.
We produce a lot of gas that are not been channeled into proper use. We must also invest in agriculture. It is high time we developed agriculture; this will halt the rural-urban drift. This will also reduce crime because many people will be attracted and engaged in this sector.
We shall also look into infrastructure. Here we make sure that the railways are rehabilitated and made functional, waterways etc. This will reduce the menace of heavy-duty vehicles and their resultant carnage on our roads.