By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Dr. Joseph Wayas was the Second Republic Senate President. He was the first Senate President to return unspent fund to the treasury. In this interview, the former number three citizen laments that he lives on charity.
How have you fared after serving as number three citizen?
I’m very proud to be a Nigerian. It is God’s wish that I will be a Nigerian; we are a nation that is still struggling to put things in perspective and we should not look at me alone but also other Nigerians in general. A lot of things need to be put right, they include the faring you just referred to. Obviously, after serving the nation and you get to my age and you are referred to as retired, you should be able to benefit from your service to your fatherland. But it is not the case, though it is not right to conclude that everything is not done rightly. So, as we march forward, we will continue to amend and do things which we should have done. Don’t forget we are only about 52 years old as a nation. When you compare that with countries that are a hundred years old, it can’t be the same; that is my hope.
As an elder statesman and one time number three citizen, how has the country cared for you and some others that have served this country?
Well, I can only speak for myself, but, like I said, it’s a long walk and I believe we will gradually get there. But to expect that everything will be very perfect and problems solved completely within this time frame, I think it is not fair to blame the country or blame anybody. I believe Africa will get there.
How often do your benefits come?
I will tell you the true position provided you don’t exploit it and the truth is that things have been extremely very hard. I am a strong believer in God and He will amend the situation; fare, that is the appropriate word to use, especially when you read in the papers about people talking about other peoples retirement, you will start asking yourself, what is wrong with my case? What you expect to hear from me is that, no, it doesn’t matter, it is okay, but the truth is that it is not okay, it is very hard. So, I expect or hope that this area should be looked into and all corrections made. To me, if people like us live in a very terrible condition, it is not good for Nigeria; people in other countries will see it as an invitation for corruption for officials while still in service, but any money or wealth you acquire wrongly will disappear wrongly.
As an elder statesman, how do you advise government to take care of those who dedicated themselves to the service of the nation?
Well, as you are aware, there are provisions for retirement benefits, but I think every government should strive hard to see that they enforce it and, by so doing, reduce the suffering of those elder men that have given the best of their time to this nation. I strongly recommend to government to take it as a serious issue.
Do you think the country appreciates its past leaders?
Yes, the country does appreciate, but appreciation should not end in the sharing or dishing out of money. Respect for the elders, treating them with the respect they deserve is how it should be; after all that is our culture for the elders, we take care of our elders. So, I appeal to Nigerians, especially those in authority, to see to it that there are laws or rules that will ensure that those past leaders are properly treated and are living in good conditions; this will encourage others who are serving to serve well.
How often do you receive your pension?
I have never received as and when due.
What is the problem?
It is a question I will ask you to try to help me ask, I don’t know why. I am not there anymore.
Is there any provision in the constitution to take care of people that have served this country?
Well don’t forget that we have had several military intervention and I keep saying consistently this issue is not an issue to raise because I want to be a beneficiary. Yes, I am suffering; there was a time a governor asked me a question,’ how have you been able to resolve this?’ and I gave an honest answer,’ by the goodwill of people’. That is the honest truth. I don’t want to drag the young man sitting here with us, but if you tell me that people like you can squeeze out something out of your monthly income, put in an envelope and say,’ sir, take, use and buy food’, I cannot pretend and say ‘no, don’t bother’ because that gesture will go a long way to help me. You saw a drink here, I didn’t buy it, somebody gave me
In other words, you are suffering and live on charity.
If you don’t get whatever you are supposed to get, you are suffering. I gave you the example of a young man, I don’t know his income, he is a public servant, but he always squeezes two or three thousand in an envelope and says ‘i know you don’t have, take this and manage’, and I accept it; I have to because if not, I am pretending and lying when I know that my pocket is empty. There are quite a good number of Nigerians who are kind hearted.
How do you think corruption in the country should be tackled?
My prescription may not be popular, but I think we shouldn’t pay lip service to it because all we do now is talk, talk and talk and nothing is happening. Honestly speaking, if any public servant suffers by being made to lose his loot, that will be a deterrent, some kind of signal that there is no good tiding when you get corrupt, and that whatever you get corruptly will be taken away from you.
How do you compare the level of corruption when you were in office and now?
The word corruption was not commonly used in our time as it is used today.At that time, it was used in extreme cases; today, everywhere, everybody talks about corruption, some even make suggestions on how it should be tackled. My honest opinion is that government shouldn’t pay lip service to it; i am not accusing any government, neither the past nor the present, but we shouldn’t pay lip service to corruption because the moment you pay lip service, it encourages people.
Insecurity seems to be threatening the unity of this country. What is the best way to tackle it?
Security is a serious issue, a government responsibility. If you consider the enormity of the insecurity in the land, you wonder whether we have government. I remember when Shagari (former president) dealt with the Maitasine sect in those days, to the extent that some of us even went to the bush hunting them, they were running.
What is your position on the proposed amnesty for Boko Haram?
This question is better put across to people in government who are proposing it because that issue should not even arise. It is a pity that some people will tell you that amnesty was granted to Niger Delta but I will like to know if the activities of the Niger Delta militants went outside Niger Delta. If the Islamists can come out and say, ‘yes we are Boko Haram’, then you will know the people to talk with. But these are faceless people and you are going to give amnesty to faceless people, what is the use?
Again, without criticizing anybody, I think there is a better way to deal with this kind of problem than speculating.
So what is the best way to handle this insurgency?
There is no way that you will discuss that it will not be an issue of criticism of an incumbent and I don’t think if i am going to advise on how government should tackle the issue should be in the press. It is a very critical issue that requires to be handled with care.
Don’t you think this will affect the unity of the country?
We have had several different threats that would have affected the unity of Nigeria, but for God to create Nigeria and put us together, He is in control. We had a civil war, but today Nigeria is moving on stronger and stronger and many people will tell you why Boko Haram cannot threaten the unity of Nigeria. This nation was created by God, put together as one people, so we are and so we will be.
Going by what is happening now; do you think that after 2015 elections, Nigeria will still remain as a nation?
Elections have never broken up Nigeria, there may be noise, there will be all kinds of stuff, in the end, we remain one. Yes we have made a lot of improvement in the last elections and I believe that we will continue to make improvement 2015. I believe that 2015 elections are going to be an improvement.
What is your position on the issue of zoning. Does it pose any threat if someone from the South-South or the incumbent president contests in 2015?
Your question consists of two separate questions; for your information, you are talking to the person who suggested and introduced zoning in Nigeria and, since we started zoning, it has helped and has given answers to many other contentious issues. I proposed zoning with rotation and indeed it helped, but if somebody from say South-South has a slot the next time, somebody else from the North follows, somebody from the West or East will have their times and every Nigerian will benefit.
The kind of zoning you initiated, is it what is been practised now or has it been bastardized?
There is nothing that is permanent except a written constitution which is also subject to amendment, so if you ask me if there is a document that is final, it is the one written by God.