•Says only lazy states are afraid

By Yinka Ajayi

Rear Admiral Mike Onah retired as Chief of Naval Accounts and Chairman of Military Pension Board in 2004. Since then, Onah has joined forces with people of like-minds to move Nigeria forward. The National President of Ndokwa Leaders Political Forum, in this interview, speaks on the state of the nation, saying only lazy states are afraid of restructuring.

Rear Admiral Onah (retd)

It has been 18 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria. How do you assess the growth of democracy against the back drop that this has never happened before?

It is a good omen for our democracy. Although there have  been trials and challenges within the period,  we thank God that democracy has  endured  – what this shows is that we are maturing as a nation. Life is about give and take, nobody is perfect.

My belief is that as we march on in our democratic journey,  we should be tolerant of one another, I mean the government and the governed. If we can tolerate one another, we will be able to avoid pitfalls of governance. God has also been on our side. We have moments where democracy has been threatened but God has been kind to us to enable us  weather those storms.

There is no system that is 100 percent perfect, just as nobody  is perfect. Only God is perfect. What this means is that we should strive to play the game according to the rules. Our leaders should strive to serve diligently. Service is about giving your best to the people who reposed confidence in you by electing you to serve them, but, unfortunately, some of our political leaders are selfish and self-serving. Such politicians should, however, remember that they were put in office to serve the  people, and not to indulge in self-service. It is unfortunate that some politicians have come to view public office as an avenue to amass ill-gotten wealth rather than to serve the people.

 What’s your assessment of the last two years since power changed hands at the centre, with APC now in control of the Federal Government?

What people should remember is that before APC took over power, the country was in bad shape, and Nigeria is a very big country with equally big problems; so people should be fair to APC. You can’t blame the party for Nigeria’s problems. The party inherited a lot of problems which I believe  government has been doing  its best to address, and this cannot be done overnight.

Nigerians since take a large chunk of the blame for the present situation we find ourselves in. We Nigerians are greedy and selfish. We don’t know how to manage ourselves. Corruption is the major problem facing us as a nation.

How do  you assess the Buhari government fight against corruption?

This government has been successful in the fight against corruption. Corruption has been put in check. I’m not saying that we have completely eliminated corruption, but at least it has been put in check. Today, the fear of Buhari and the EFCC is the beginning of wisdom.

Although some people might say not many people have been jailed for corruption, the mere fact that these looters are being caught and exposed is a big disgrace. I believe that sooner or later, we will have people being sent to jail for corruption. You know this is a democratically elected government, so due process must be followed, but I’m very sure that these looters will not be spared.

Buhari has done well in this area of fighting corruption. He should be given his due in this regard. What Buhari is doing in fighting corruption and trying to restore financial sanity in our polity, no government has ever done that before.

Exposing looters is commendable. Like I said earlier, Nigeria is a very big country with big problems. My expectation of Buhari is that he should prioritise his programme. He should not try to resolve many problems at the same time.

Which areas would you like him to give attention?

Power is the first. Power is the key to many problems facing us in this country. If there is steady power supply, a lot of things that are dead or comatose will be revived. Industries that almost dead will come back to life. Even small scale businesses will bounce back to life; welders, hair-dressers, barbers and other small scale business operators that constitute a large part of our population will have something doing. So, to me, fixing the power sector should be given  top priority by the Buhari administration. As the saying goes, where there is a will, there will always be a way. Although the administrations before him failed to fit power sector, I believe strongly that Buhari can do it.

Is it not a big shame that with our population estimated at about 170 millions, Nigeria, the acclaimed giant of Africa, can’t generate up to 4,000 megawatts of power supply whereas South Africa, with  far lesser population, is generating 40,000 megawatts power supply? So, what is the problem with Nigeria? The power sector is an area Buhari must address with  vigour just like he is doing with corruption.

Is that all or …?

Buhari should be commended in the area of security especially for dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency, but there are other areas relating to security which he must address quickly. Among others, you have kidnapping and armed robbery on the increase in some parts of the country. Kidnappers and cultists are on the rampage, and are having a field day in some parts of the country. You also have the  herdsmen issue which has become a source of national concern – Buhari must find ways to resolve the  herdsmen’s attacks on their host communities. Something has to be done quickly to avert the herdsmen issue  snowballing into a bigger crisis capable of threatening the corporate existence of this country.

Restructuring Nigeria has tcontinued to be on the front burners?

If Nigeria is to move forward and advance as a nation, we have to restructure. Restructuring is very important. We can’t continue the way we are going. True federalism is the way out for us. What we have in Nigeria today is what I will describe as federalism in theory, but unitary system in practice. This is why things are not working. The fear of those opposed to restructuring that  some states will not survive if we restructure, but that  fear is unfounded.

Are you saying the fear is not justified?

The bitter truth is that many states have become lazy, they have become comfortable with the monthly allocation they collect in Abuja such that they are no longer keen to exploit the natural resources available in the states for financial purpose.

From my studies at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, every state in Nigeria is blessed with natural resources to sustain herself. The problem with Nigerians is that we are lazy. People are comfortable with the monthly allocation from crude oil sales. But do these Nigerians know that one day oil wells can dry up? What  do they fall back upon in order to get money to run their states when that time comes? In fact, our over dependence on oil as a mono-product economy is very unfortunate. We should have given attention to tapping the natural resources in other parts of the country.

Now, look at how many states are in a mess following the crash of oil price. As a result of the drop in oil revenue, many states can no longer meet their financial obligations. Many of them are owing civil servants and pensioners, whereas if there are mineral resources we are tapping apart from oil, when oil price crashed, we wouldn’t have been feeling its biting effects as we are experiencing it now.

What is your advice to those who have mixed feelings about restructuring?

We have enough mineral resources to sustain every state but it is unfortunate that free oil money has made them to become very lazy.

Our over dependence on oil as our only source of revenue is not good. It is not a healthy development for our economy. We should return  to agriculture – I  remember with nostalgia those good olden days of the First Republic and the pre-independence era when different regions of the country were renown for the cultivation of different agricultural products on a large scale. The South-West was renown for cocoa and palm oil, The North renown for cultivating cotton and also famous for the groundnut pyramid in Kano, while in the South-East and South-South, you had palm oil and rubber being cultivated.

Then Nigeria was making a lot of money from the export of these agricultural products, but when crude oil was discovered in large commercial scale, we abandoned these agricultural products for easy money. It is better for us to return to the roots. We need to diversify our economy. Diversification of the economy is one of the keys to solving the multifarious challenges facing us as a nation.

The presidential system of government which we practise has been described as expensive by some people. Do you agree?

That’s very true. The type of government we practise is very expensive. The presidential system consumes a lot of money. A lot of money is spent on elected officials and other public office holders with little or no money left for development.

Under the system of government, you have duplication of offices both at the federal, state and local government levels and you have thousands of officials collecting jumbo pay. I don’t think the presidential system is the best for us. We need to reduce the cost of governance in the country.

Some Nigerians have suggested that President Buhari should  take a look at the recommendations of 2014 National Conference organized by his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, in finding solutions to the nation’s problem. What is your take?

Whatever step that will bring us peace is welcome. There is nothing bad in Buhari taking some portions from Jonathan’s Confab Report and even Obasanjo’s National Confab of 2005 of which I was a member. It is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. Buhari should set up a committee to look into the 2005 and 2014 confab reports and subsequently take portions or sections which will help move Nigeria forward.

There is no time to waste. We can’t continue like this. We are sitting on a keg of gun powder which can explode anytime. Let’s all come round the table and discuss in a harmonious way how we can move this nation forward. The time has come for Nigerians to jettison all forms of ethnic jingoism, unpatriotic acts and other things which are inimical to the growth of Nigeria.

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