Says you cannot use Boko Haram against Jonathan’s second term
SEnator (Col.) Dr. Ahmadu Ali is a man of all seasons and arguably one of the most exposed
public office holders in Nigeria’s post war years. Civilian and military, Ali has been at the top echelon of governance in Nigeria and in all cases he was a man of action who often left a signature name behind the high offices he occupied.
As federal commissioner for education in the Olusegun Obasanjo military government in the late seventies, he generated upheaval in the campuses with the introduction of tuition fees in the universities leading to the nationwide campus crusade, Ali Must Go. Thirty years later when he became national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the phrase, Guerrilla Politics was tagged on him on account of his no nonsense approach to the implementation of party programmes and politics.
Trained as a medical doctor, the young Ahmadu found his love with the army and rose through the Education Corps and was the first director of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, before he joined the Obasanjo military government as a federal commissioner. He was also a member of the third republic Senate and is presently a member of the National Conference that is now rounding up and the chairman of the governing board of the National Universities Commission, NUC.
Col. Ali brought his experience to bear in this interview, giving unique perspectives to the crisis in the education sector, the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency among others. Excerpts:
BY HENRY UMORU, ASSISTANT POLITICAL EDITOR
BEing a delegate to the National Conference, do you think it was a waste of time given the way it ended abruptly?
Any effort by any government to make sure that Nigerians talk to one another, is an effort worth spending money on.
At the end of the day, what can we do with the report?
As you are aware the group itself was put together by Mr. President. Mr. President is our constituency and that is where we report to. It is left to the President, who all Nigerians have given the mandate to administer this country for a period, it is left to him to seek out what is urgently required and take appropriate action.
What is administratively possible he administers it to the executive arm of government, what requires a law to be made, a bill will be sent to the National Assembly. What needs a constitutional amendment, the National Assembly will approve of it and they will put the thing into motion. That is how these things are done.
The House of Representatives caucus of your party, PDP has endorsed President Goodluck Jonathan for 2015. Is that a pointer to the direction of PDP?
I am not aware of any meeting in the villa because I was not invited and even if they do so, they are doing it in the right direction as far as I am concerned. It’s only that they are jumping the queue and that is all. And again, they are not the only people that have jumped the queue, many other Nigerians have gone to the President and pledged to support him in 2015.
Does that mean that PDP is presenting the president for the 2015 presidential election?
Yes, because you see the system we are operating allows an incumbent, a sitting president the choice of first refusal. When he says I am no more running, then the party has to shuttle for another candidate that is how it is done. But in spite of that if he says he is running, that does not prevent any adventurer from making an effort himself. But already the party would have got its official candidate because he is a sitting president.
It means as it is now, no room for others.
It is like an option B really, when you look at it because you must give room for people who are equally qualified to test the waters and baring any accident, the candidate that is supported by the party, sails through; but if anything happens, there is always an alternative.
Your party is not ruling out consensus when you come for convention?
We are still going to vote, that is why people who want to come in, we see through if they got what it takes to join the race, but the party before the convention would have made up its mind about the sitting President; that is how it is done. It is not a place where all the members will come and say we want to be president. Everybody will like to be president of course, but there must be some order to it.
Is the PDP still in line with the dreams and aspirations of the founding fathers especially as it relates to discipline of members.
Yes, it is in line with the founding fathers’ dream, we are still digging and trimming the rough edges, that we have done so very well. That the press is always bartering the PDP, it’s normal because the power is in our hands. The only thing you can do is to tell us that there is an alternative somewhere and it makes us to sit up. I think the party is doing very well and the dreams of the founding fathers are still being realised.
When you talk about party discipline that is a problem of all parties in this country. That the PDP has managed its own much better than the rest and that is why we remain solid and “we dey kamkpe”. We have never changed our name. PDP yesterday, PDP today, PDP tomorrow, PDP forever.
How do you mean forever?
I do not envisage during any accident, our losing hold of power quickly like that, no, but if somehow our performance depreciates in the future, I will not be surprised because Nigerians will not be lying there, left by the road, they will have to make a choice.
How do you see a situation where an incumbent governor will be waiting for a senator from his zone to round off, then comes to the Senate after eight years as governor?
Those are some of the tendencies we are trying to find a solution to, it is not very good because to me, the Senate is becoming a haven for governors looking for where to hide their head, to escape EFCC and that is actually what they are doing. They are not contributing anything better than the ordinary people who came there.
Where they can be useful if they are so sure of themselves is in the presidency but they are not thinking that way, they want to run to the Senate and cause disequilibrium in the system because when they do that, they do not allow a senator with enormous experience to horn his appetite for a higher office; So that is something that needs to be subtly discouraged.
It is not bad, but it shows quite clearly when they are governors, they try to show that they are superior to the senators, but when they leave as governors, they want to become senators, but we don’t see a senator going back to become a governor because once you become a senator of the Federal Republic; I mean it is not a state alone.
What is your reaction to the confab resolution on rotation of power between the North and South and among the three senatorial zones of each state?
That is alright, that is in line with PDP, we started it, and everybody is copying it now without making noise. I have always said this that if there was any mistake that the founding fathers of the nation made, was that when they were asking for independence, they didn’t have any plan to educate the north; they didn’t make any special provision.
They were too much in a hurry to seize power and that was why the north resisted because Western education came through the sea. If Arabic education that they have in the north was the one that took over in Nigeria, they would have been well ahead of the South, but the thing went the other way round. You see on the floor of the confab the northern lady members were first class materials, brilliant chaps. We couldn’t dream of this when I entered the university.
I entered the university in 1957, the population of Ibadan University College was 676 persons and there were only 18 northerners, you see the disparity. Now that has continued for some time.
The advent of Ahmadu Bello shot up the northern graduating group a little bit. But while Ahmadu Bello was coming on board, Obafemi Awolowo was coming, Nsukka was coming. So nobody was being held down.
When I was a minster, about 6 or 7 universities came on board, only the University of Calabar, I think was the only one in the South. The rest were all in the north because that was where there was a draught of educated people. So this is now giving rise to new groups with qualifications that you can reckon with, if not they were not there.
What do you think should be done to get it right?
It is a misfortune that lecturers these days are not being honest with themselves and they are not honest with the nation because their strikes as far as I am concerned are frivolous.
They said there is no money for infrastructure, there is plenty of money, TET fund has trillions of naira, they cannot access it. There are conditions for accessing the fund but they don’t want to follow the process of accessing the fund; they are looking for where they will award a new contract.
Toilets in hostels are going to pieces, they are not interested. Roofs are being blown off they are not interested, they want to give new contracts and you know what that means, the implications and when that Vice Chancellor is gone, the new one comes, he wants to change the blueprint and you know that the NUC will not agree.
Abandoned projects are abounding in the whole country, we can’t have it in the university system. Whatever is the blueprint must be completed before another one can come in. They said they are not being paid for overtime. I didn’t want to speak because I came when the strike was at its height and they were already discussing with the president.
If not they have no business coming to meet the President, even the minister of education. Their employer is the council of the university that is where their trade unionism should stop. Council hired you, they fire you, ok.
But as that happens, there was not much we can do more than to just passively look. If not they said they are not being paid for overtime, we now said bring the list of lecturers of every university in every department, they will not submit the list.
You know why, because of the expansion of the university system, many of them are lecturing in two, three universities, so, there is no single university where they will put in the maximum number of hours, not to talk of even asking for overtime; they are just lecturing around the place and earning money and that is what concerns them.
So if they produce the names, their names will be appearing in those places and if their names don’t appear there, that course will not be accredited.
So they don’t want their names to appear in different places, this is the whole problem. I think we just have to get people who are more attuned to progress in the university system becoming lecturers and not people who cannot find jobs becoming lecturers, it must be a calling.
The universities too are not helping matters themselves because those who do first class are the ones they always want to come to lecture and they may not be interested. Somebody who has a second class upper or lower may like to teach, but by this ivory towerism, it must be first class honours; we all know how they get this first class honours, that again is another problem.
You were the national chairman of PDP during the third term saga, your party was said to have supported it, what role did you and your party play?
The party never supported any third term, the party never made any statement on that issue and there was nothing called third term. It was a coinage of the press. What happened then was the constitution amendments of which there were 102. Only one suggested about the tenure of the presidency and because of the wrong label the press gave it, all the 102 amendments were thrown out, which was most unfortunate.
I hope it won’t happen to this present National Conference?
I don’t know, it is the way you people handle it. The press is always putting us into trouble, this is the whole problem. You hyped things wrongly and that becomes the whole thing that Obasanjo wants third term, but it was just that they were doing it during his time. Whether he wants third term, no third term, who cares?
But we knew that people were going round recruiting members of the parliament because they are the relevant people to support what they call tenure elongation.
In any case it wasn’t that Obasanjo tried to elongate tenure, it is a question of look we want this thing to be like this now. Should the incumbent benefit from this new law or not, that was another question that should have been asked. It is not just killing the thing. On moral ground, he has no right to benefit from the law that he is creating.
What is your take on the security challenge in some parts of the country?
We had an over bloated army after the civil war, it is the same civil population that went round saying that we must proceed to bring down the number of people in uniform and that we have done to a manageable level, the level we have now is alright for our purpose.
Encroaching on territory
Unfortunately we are faced with an insurgency where the troops on the ground are totally inadequate to cope, that is the problem. Because we didn’t have the troops for any adventure, it is just to maintain our territorial integrity.
Nobody is encroaching on our territory and we are not encroaching on anybody’s territory; we had no problem. The problem now came with this thing. So we were caught unaware. If we were a troublesome nation, if we had subdued all our neighbours, our army would have been 20 times this strength.
The vote for the army would have been enormous. All the equipment we are buying now, we didn’t think of buying them because we had no need for them, but the situation now is quite clear; today, we are dealing with Boko Haram, an internally generated group.
Tomorrow it may be a real foreign invasion. So the nation should learn a lesson from this or the people should be ready to spend more money on defence and security.
If you don’t spend more money, then you are not truly secured because we have found out now, we have to swallow our pride, reduce all this consumerism in society and devote more money arming ourselves, ready for any eventuality and by the grace of God, we will see the back of it.
So, it is just that we were caught unaware. Then again, this is not conventional warfare, Guerrilla warfare is very difficult to fight. People are talking about Chibok girls, why haven’t they brought them back if they know where they are. How do we bring them back? If we decide to invade them in that forest, they will use the children as shield and we want the children alive.
Air force you have been seeing them, why didn’t you bomb them, if you bomb them, the bomb will not differentiate between the Boko Haram and the children we want to protect, it is a very difficult thing. It is like a lizard on top of a pot of water, you want to save the pot and the water, but you don’t want the lizard to fall into it, so how do you do it? So we must find another way of getting the lizard from the edge of the pot so that you can preserve your water. That is the head ache we have.
Some people are saying that the security issue is a minus for Jonathan’s re-election bid in 2015.
I don’t know, people who do not know how these things work may think that way and I won’t blame them because they don’t know anything better. Some of us have a better idea and we don’t think it is as easy as they are thinking.
You know things happen in cycles. Some persons who may not be Mr. Goodluck they will become president and they will not have any insurgency on the table until he leaves the place. Somebody will just come, in spite of his name being Goodluck will have all these bad omen from insurgency, it is something that you cannot predict; you cannot use it against a ruler really.
Although we Africans we tend to associate such things with rulers. In my place, they will tell you that when a certain family is ruling, there is always famine. They don’t bring the famine, but they say there is famine, hunger will kill people during those periods, it is just the African way of looking at things which has nothing to do with the ruler and that is the way I want Nigerians to look at Jonathan and the present insurgency.