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Speaks on the Kebbi post-election agenda

On Biafra: Secessionist bid belated

By   Bilesanmi Olalekan 

Senator Adamu Aliero was governor of Kebbi State between 1999 and 2007. He was later appointed as Minister of  the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. He is presently the Senate Committee Chairman on Customs. He explains, in this  interview, why he supports the pro-Biafra protesters but disapproves of their  break-away plan. Aliero says  importation of  rice must remain banned and  describes  the present revenue sharing formula  as unconstitutional. 

You once said you don’t support the pro-Biafra protesters action but they have the right to protest. How did you mean? 

I believe in unity of Nigeria and in its indivisibility. For that, I am against the agitation  for the sovereign state of  Biafra. However, they have every right  to protest. If there are genuine complaints or grievances, there is nothing  wrong in people coming out to express their feelings. If there are genuine grievances, either in representation in the appointments at the federal level or any organs of the government for that matter, you can come out and forward such to  government. And  government is duty-bound to address it.   But without exhausting that avenue, you start agitating for succession, or break up of the country,  I don’t think Nigerians will support  that. I  saw  a situation  during the last National Conference, where people came out with a determined position, an  agenda which they were bent to push through which , of course, could have led to the break up of the country. But, when we  started talking, we  came to an agreement that Nigeria must remain  an  indivisible entity, irrespective of our grievances. We have more to gain by living together than breaking up. Nigeria is better as a united country. It will be more prosperous, more attractive for foreign investors, than  breaking  up and each of the units tries  to survive on  its  own. I don’t believe in that. I believe in being my brother’s keeper. God in His own wisdom brought us together through the instrumentality of colonialism. And we have come to love each other. Of course, there would be disagreement here and there. Even between man and wife, there are disagreements, but you sit down and dialogue. This is what I believe should happen. And for that reason, the agitation for Biafra is belated. It happened in the 60s. You cannot take us back to that era. We need to move ahead.

But part of the grievances is that the  Igbo are  not well represented at the national level? 

I don’t want to believe that statement. Who is the Deputy Senate President? He is from   the East. The oil minister is from that region.

Some people have rebutted it that the oil minister is not from a  core Igbo state?

If you are talking of Biafra, and to my understanding, it consists of the South- East and South- South. May be you were too young to know what Biafra was in the 60s. Ibe Kachikwu is from Delta State. If you look at the composition of  government, you will find out that there is the preponderance of  the Igbo extraction in it. It is wrong to say the Igbo  are not represented at the national level. There is Ogbonaya   Onu, a fine gentle man and of very high integrity, there in the cabinet.   The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Commerce, are they not Igbo? The Constitution has made it mandatory for   the President to have a minister  from  each of the states of the federation and President   Buhari has complied with that provision of the law.

 Development  should ordinarily take place  more at the state and local levels, yet, the Federal Government gets the biggest in terms of revenue allocation. How can this be addressed? 

To be honest with you, revenue allocation issue has always been a contentious issue. Since the  restoration of democracy in 1999, we have never had an   acceptable revenue allocation. The organ responsible for the sharing of revenue allocation is the Revenue   Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission which determines the revenue formula, that is after consideration of all the variables from  stakeholders. Twice, they came with the formula which was presented to the President   and, the first time the  formula was sent to the National Assembly, it   mysteriously   disappeared. The second attempt, they came up with another allocation formula and presented to the National Assembly for ratification.

I was  governor for eight years and I know how much suffering we went through under President Olusegun Obasanjo. We tried at that time to come out with a revenue allocation formula that is truly representative but our efforts were thwarted. So, there is really no revenue sharing formula that is constitutionally acceptable because, if the formula did not pass through the National Assembly, then  it is not constitutionally right. If the President makes adjustment and passes  it on to the Minister of Finance today, it may not be acceptable to everybody because   even the formula  in use today has no constitutional backing. The National Assembly did not approve the present revenue sharing formula.

Some people  argue that the little allocation to  the states is not judiciously used? 

It all depends on the state. I can talk about myself. When I was  governor, the little my state was getting was prudently used. I was able to execute a number of projects that have impacted on the lives of the people. And I guess that is why I am still relevant in the politics of the state   more than nine years after leaving office. I impacted both economically band infrastructure wise on the state. We reformed the education sector, we ensured that potable water was in all nooks and crannies of the state. We built a number  of roads including some federal roads that were rehabilitated, though we were reimbursed later. We built the only   airport and university in the state. Hospitals were built. Over 700 towns and villages were connected to the national grid. We made an indelible mark while in office. So, it depends on each state. To generalise that governors were misapplying their allocation is not correct. It is not fair. There is an exception to the rule. There are obviously some governors who misused their allocation but not everybody.

The only source of the nation revenue, crude, which  price has crashed  in the international market. Apart from oil,   in what other ways can we diversify our economy such that we would reduce the over dependence on   crude? 

Adamu Aliero
Adamu Aliero

I am one of those who believe strongly that we must diversify our economy. Perhaps we are the only OPEC member- nation that failed to do that. It is true that we misused our oil revenue. We should have used oil money to develop our agricultural potentials. A number of things could have been done with the oil revenue to mobilise people to embrace agriculture as a way of life and also as a revenue generating venture. I think by now if we had done this, large scale farmers capable of cultivating   from between 2,000  and  5,000 hectares of  rice, sugar ,cocoa, cotton, livestock would have emerged. But instead, we started using oil money to import all sorts of rubbish. Things we were exporting ,we started importing .

Malaysia in the 60s  came here to get seedlings for palm kennel. 20 years after, we started importing from them, and up till now we are still importing and even smuggled it atimes. We were exporting cotton to Europe in the 60s and 70s, but now we are importing textiles from China and India. For example, in the 60s, we didn’t know anything like imported rice. We were relying on locally produced rice. Suddenly, we started bringing rice from Thailand, Vietnam, even from America. We have to come to the basics. We were living in fool’s paradise.   And that made all of us lazy. Those that were not lazy became complacent. In my view, the only way out is to go back to agriculture, rely on what we have locally.

We have to do backward integration. This country is well endowed. We have a  very good climate. We have fertile soil. We have able men and women that can work and feed ourselves and even export. I think once we do this,   we can get our economy diversified. Solid minerals, to  me, will be a good area of diversification. Nigeria is richer than South Africa in the area of solid minerals. We are three times richer than South Africa. This is what the United Nations investigation revealed. We have all sorts of minerals. There is no state in the country that does not have one mineral or the other. The only thing we should start dong now is the exploration and exploitation.

I think we can be better off if we can do this. South Africa earns 30 billion dollars  from  solid minerals, and we are richer than South Africa. If we can start exploration to the fullest, I think we can get up to 90 billion dollars per annum. That kind of money can do a lot of things for this country. ICT   is another area of diversification. Look at India, it is now a  net exporter of ICT technology. We were at par with India at a time especially in the 50s up to the 70s. What went wrong with us? Is it the political will that our  leaders do not have? Is it that we are  indisciplined? There has to be a change.   Happily, the current president has been talking about change and I sincerely hope that, within the next four years, he would get this country back on its   tracks. He got it back on the right tracks in the 80s when he was a military President and, with the kind of National  Assembly he has now, he would be able to get Nigeria on track to the promised land.

You raised a motion on the floor of the Senate on the ban lifted on the importation of rice. What  exactly is your grouse? 

The motion was raised  in  our national interest. At one time, rice was being brought through the border, via Cotonou port.   First, the importer would pay duty  at Cotonou.  After that payment, he would pay port charges before loading in the truck. On reaching  border, what normally happens is that, with the connivance of the Customs Service, this truck comes into Nigeria without payment of duty. No genuine business man will import rice through Cotonou port, pay duty at Cotonou, and come to pay import duty in Nigeria, and still pay 300k per truck to bring the goods into Nigeria. If he does that, he would lose  a lot of money.

So, once they get to the border, the goods slip into the country without paying duty. That is why we are against the idea of bringing rice through the border. Nigerian Customs has no infrastructure to monitor the movement of these trucks, small vehicles coming into our border area. But if they bring it through the port, the whole ship load will berth within the Nigerian ports. The Customs officers will know how much tonnage,   know price per tonne; so, it will be easier to collate the import duty the ship load will pay. The NPA   and the shipping company will collect their charges. The dockworkers will have work to do. The freight forwarders will have something to   do.

But if you bring it through the border, it is the other country that will take advantage. Once these goods come into our border without paying duty, Nigeria automatically becomes a dumping ground. Substandard goods will  follow suit. Again, as I said earlier, it is not all the routes taken by smugglers the Customs will know; so, by the time they bring these goods into our border, a lot of other things like substandard goods will follow, crime will follow.  Meanwhile, if we should allow it to   continue, our farmers will not get market for what they produce. If that happens, their equipment   becomes  useless as it becomes redundant. Automatically, there will be loss of the jobs that we are saying  are  not available. Again, the danger of that is that we may even be taking  toxic rice into the country.

So, ultimately, we are the ones harming our economy, while we are empowering the other economies where these goods are coming from. I am sure the Comptroller General got it wrong. And we the Senate insist that if we are all talking about national interest, the policy should be reversed. And if it is not reversed, it certainly works   against our national interest, because that would make us heavily dependent on foreign rice, millet and others. If things are done properly by bringing everything through our ports, there will be some level of certainty on the revenue coming into the purse of government.

The former Minister of Agriculture did a lot. Perhaps he was the best performing Minister in the cabinet of Dr Goodluck Jonathan. He worked so hard that the farmers, millers and business men in agric business in all the geo- political zones attested to his performance.   Fertilizer issue, which hitherto was shrouded in secrecy, became very open such that it was reaching the farmers directly. As a result, a lot of farmers got empowered such that people started getting employment and the restiveness started going down. I think the present Minister of Agriculture will have to continue and improve from where  the former Minister  stopped. The idea is that this country should not be importing any kind of goods into  this country

There are still  frayed nerves in Kebbi   as a result of the last elections which some have attributed as the  reason why a cabinet is yet to be constituted in the state. 

EFCC operatives
EFCC operatives

I wanted to bring everybody together as far back as 2011. Unfortunately, the election (that brought Dakingari to power) was flawed. If the election was held at the time it was initially planned, he would not have been governor in 2011. The postponement of the election really demoralized the   then CPC supporters. I have been in politics for more than 20 years, but   the best time of my life in politics was when I was in CPC. We actively mobilised the people of Kebbi  to go in one direction. And they did. Unfortunately, the election was  marred by a lot of irregularities, making CPC to lose, election. However, as God would have it, we were asked to return to PDP; we did,   conditionally. And those conditions, unfortunately, were not met. And when we saw the opportunity of bringing our people into APC, we brought all of them to the party. The few ones adamant in PDP, we told them that they would not win the election.

As, through the assistance of  Allah, we were able to form the government in Kebbi State. Since then, we have been trying to carry every one along, regardless of political affiliation. Once elections are over, governance takes over. You are now a statesman. You are governor   for everybody. I think the governor is doing just that. We as his advisers back him very strongly to continue on that. The issue of commissioners will soon be a thing of the past as we have discussed the issue, consultations have been made with all the stakeholders, very soon the list will be with the state assembly. I agree that it has been delayed, quite honestly, but everything is now on course.

Once the cabinet is done,   we shall then continue with the process of reconciliation, harmonising the various interests and finding   the various forces in order to move the state forward. However, I am not promising you that we would get everybody into APC. We still need opposition, because without opposition, there will be no democracy. What is important is to get comfortable majority so that you will be able to execute your programmes and projects that will touch the lives of the people and the people will be  endeared to you.



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