•Says Nigeria can’t contain consequences of another civil war
•Asks Buhari to use looted funds to build mass houses for poor Nigerians
•Calls for reduction of states from 36 to 18 to promote development
By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
General Sam Momah, a one-time Minister of Science and Technology, is also a writer on contemporary Nigerian issues with no fewer than eight books on the shelf to show for his scholarly prowess and expertise in military warfare and engineering works. In this interview, Momah talks about his latest work entitled “Nigeria’s Break-up: Grave Consequences and solutions”. The retired military officer, who has a PhD in Strategic Studies, also describes as politically-motivated the resurgence of Biafran agitation and oil facility bombings by Niger Delta militants. He warns the perpetrators to sheath their sword arguing that the consequences of their actions could lead Nigeria to its brink and damage its future generations.
You have written many topics on Nigeria, may we know what the current book is all about?
Essentially, the book is to alert Nigerians and enlighten those who do not know the grave consequences of a second civil war. We fought the first one, we lost 10 million souls; we lost a lot of property and the adverse effect of that war is still on because it triggered the monster of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes that were unheard of before then. And so, if we now plunge the country into a second war, I fear that it might not end in 50 years and the devastation would be indescribable because we have seen what is happening in other countries where wars are being fought like Sudan, Somalia and Syria.
Sudan had been fighting civil war for 46years from 1955 – 2011 when Southern Sudan then got its independence. So for 46 years Sudan went through that turmoil. Now in Southern Sudan, they are in turmoil again. And we also saw what happened in Somalia; they went through civil war for 30 years and up till now Somalia has not really recovered. Then you see Eritrea and what is happening now in Syria, Libya and in Yemen; the consequence of civil war is very devastating.
That is why I am saying that we should build and consolidate on whatever modicum of peace we now have in Nigeria. We need a lot of diplomacy and dialogue and the spirit of of give on issues. I am also asking the progressive elements of the country to come together and produce a leadership that will take Nigeria higher on the pedestal of development, peace and stability. The problem we have is that charlatans and all sorts of people have hijacked leadership.
We need to see progressive minds come together from all corners of the country and produce a leadership that would be really a representative of what Nigeria should be. I know we have a President who Nigerians believe has the capacity to do a lot. Unfortunately, he came in when oil prices plunged so badly and the matter has not been made better by the militants blowing up our pipelines and all sorts of agitation. When you have these agitations, a lot of money is spent trying to checkmate them and you find out that the economy then suffers.
That is why the book is essential because I want Nigerians to know that as we make our beds so we lie on them. We cannot be destroying and distracting and disrupting governance and still aspire for good governance. It is not possible. The world is evolving so fast that everybody knows they have to protect what they have. Most countries cannot accept us as refugees because there is so much xenophobia in the world. It will be difficult for any country whether in America or Europe to give Nigerians asylum because of its sheer size and population if another civil war breaks out now. So we have to protect Nigeria because we have no other home than Nigeria.
Do you think we need restructuring in the country and in what ways?
I think we need to restructure. There is no doubt about that and my book also emphasizes that. When we talk of restructuring, Nigeria’s unity should be paramount. The kind of restructuring that I am talking about in the book for instance, is to reduce the 36 states into 18 states within the context of the provinces and abolition of Local Government areas so as to pave the way for development. The whole essence of the restructuring is that states would be viable and more manageable for results that have been eluding us for a long time now.
If we do that, the duplication of offices and facilities would stop because once you have a state you also want to have an airport, a university and every other thing. So with that once you can now boost the economy by improving on our infrastructure, you would find out that kidnapping would stop, militancy would stop and there would be peace because what is happening now is that people are hungry. That is why I appeal to President Buhari to convoke a practical National Conference that will take necessary steps to ensure the restructuring of Nigeria without further delay so as to save the country from underdevelopment and more agitations.
If you are calling for a new National Conference to be convoked by the present government, what about the previous ones?
The platform of this restructuring would be the National conference because all nationalities and stakeholders will discuss and work out the details of the restructuring we are dreaming of such as details of the 18-state structure, their capitals etc.The problem with restructuring is that almost all the zones and groups in Nigeria have different interpretations and expectations. Some elements in the South East for instance, want a different country, Biafra, from Nigeria; in the South-South, people want resource control because of oil while in the South West, their own restructuring is about fiscal federalism and devolution of power. How do we marry all these for national interest and one Nigeria?
That is why I am advocating a national conference where everybody will come with their own concepts of restructuring and it is going to be a conference with ideas, a heated argument of ideas. At the end of the last conference that was held in 2014, they still came out with some recommendations after all the heated arguments and all that. The last conference should be made one of the terms of reference of the new one because there are issues that have already been dealt with and it is just a question of agreeing with them as they have already been accepted. .
Throughout the period of the PDP administration there was no agitation for Biafra on a scale that we have now seen. What is missing in the Buhari government that is fuelling the ferocious Biafran and the Niger Delta agitations leading to the loss of lives and national assets?
That is a very good question but maybe we have to say the home truth; the issue remains that the agitation for Biafra now is being sponsored by elements that are against this administration; it is a deliberate thing. It is just like what is happening in the Niger Delta; it is not just a gang of boys, they are being sponsored and the essence is to pull down this administration and intelligence sources know the details.
Are you suggesting that the renewed Biafran agitation and the bombing of oil facilities in the Niger Delta are politically-motivated?
Yes, they are politically motivated. You can see that there is no type of dialogue by the government that will assuage them. If you negotiate with one group today, another will spring up tomorrow with a different set of demands or conditions. If you make concessions to one entity another will come out with new terms and so on.
These groups and individuals are adamant because they are being sponsored by certain interests who are working for 2019 elections. People are already strategising for 2019 when we have just started a new administration which inherited a gamut of problems it is trying to solve and one is tempted to ask, is this how we can build Nigeria of our dream when political elements are supporting break-up and violence? It is necessary to advise those who are sponsoring the renewed Biafran agitation in South East and Niger Delta militancy in the South South to stop it.
It will not bring any tangible benefit to anyone. Rather it will cause more trouble, suffering and dislocations for our people.
We want federal presence here; we want ports and jobs instead of war and divisions. We should ensure strict compliance with the Constitution of Nigeria by all. For instance, we should ask why Sharia law should be put in the constitution when the constitution says that Nigeria should not have a state religion. These are issues that one can push for and be very vehement, carrying placards and keep on doing that because that is how it is being done in civilized societies.
When you said both the Niger Delta and the South East agitations are politically motivated, what evidence do you have?
One would not start pointing fingers now because we don’t want to legalise something that is obvious. But I feel sad that at my childhood, the Nigeria that I saw that was very peaceful and progressive, is turning into a monster that I cannot understand and I feel sorry for my grandchildren in particular. Why can’t we make better what we met? So I feel sad and as a responsible citizen I feel I should speak out my views and let’s stop the madness. But it appears to me that the government has allowed the miscreants too much room given the extent to which they have gone sometimes killing soldiers, policemen and other security agents with the government doing nothing about it thereby emboldening others to commit more atrocities.
What is happening really to me is that the states are not taking charge. There is a big vacuum between the centre and the states. There appears to be no meeting point and therefore I believe that people should be less partisan in national mattes because when you talk of security it affects everybody. If the kidnapper comes he doesn’t say oh, you are PDP or you are APC; he simply kidnaps you or your children for ransom. Unfortunately, the states blame the federal government for everything most of the time despite the obvious fact that they own the bulk of the manpower, the land and other assets, which they should use to help the federal government to fight crime.
The governors should wake up and do the work for which they were voted to protect lives and property irrespective of which party they belong. They must do more than they are currently doing in the overall interest of the economy and security of Nigeria.
One thing that people keep saying about this government is that it is not spending money like the previous ones, leading to untold hardship and suffering. So, what do you think is wrong with this government?
There is nothing wrong with the government apart from the fact that it inherited a lot of financial problems worsened by the Niger Delta militancy and falling oil prices. But the main issue is that the Buhari government has made anti corruption fight one of its cardinal programmes and having done that it has tied the hands of those who were stealing public funds. People are no longer able to loot the treasury with ease as was the case in the recent past and not many corrupt people are happy with the system. In the world indexes for corruption Nigeria used to be third from the bottom after Iraq and Afghanistan.
In West Africa, Nigeria was last in the anti-corruption index; so there was the need to do something about it and we cannot really blame the present administration. Corruption is something that must be checked because it was so blatant. Every country has the element of corruption but when it becomes so heinous, so dirty, so inhuman; it can kill. Take for instance, a situation whereby one person takes the money meant for a whole state or ministry for himself. Is that fair at all?
Are you saying that the poor perception about this government is borne out of its deliberate efforts to fight corrupt persons?
Yes, it is the effort by the government to live by example that is causing the fight. Of course, you know that you cannot be talking of anti corruption and you are giving out envelope. But at the end of the day if we clean up the stable as it is now, up to a point, then little tips will not do anybody any harm. Buhari must remain firm to fight the monster called corruption. Within a short time, Nigeria will come out of the present economic situation and Nigerians will applaud him by then. Nothing good comes easy. He and his officials do not need to give or take bribe so as to make money available like water as it was in the past. People should rightly earn what they deserve by working for it. There must be a price to pay for corrupt practices so that Nigeria must come out of the bad side of history.
What can the government do to make the country better then?
One, I would advise him to make a broadcast at least once a month because Nigerians need to hear from their President directly. Let them know where we are heading to so that everybody will now key to it because the word of the President is actually like a word from God. Secondly, I would advise him to visit the states, get in touch with the governors because his impact would be phenomenal. Thirdly, like I said earlier, he should set up a national conference as soon as possible.
He will do posterity a favour by setting up a national conference where we will discuss issues that are germane to the future of Nigeria by restructuring all these religious problems and other national issues that are begging for solutions. And then fourthly, I would advise that the money that has been recovered from looted funds, the N268 billion, which has been captured in 2017 budget should be used for the building of low cost houses in the state capitals and in Abuja for low income people and the building would be made up of red bricks so that people who own the building would partake in the building to create jobs.
No contractors should be used so that the money will deliver more houses for more underprivileged Nigerians. And the houses should be known as “Looted Funds Housing Estates” so that Nigeria will then see what that money was used for because if you share it to state governments, they will pocket the money and travel overseas and at the end of the day nobody would see what the money was used for. And that would amount to looting the looted funds.