By Demola Akinyemi, Ilorin
Alhaji Nurudeen Mohammed, from Kaiama, Kwara State, is Nigeria’s Ambassador to Malaysia.
He had been a close ally of President Muhammadu Buhari in the former Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, long before the CPC merged with other parties to become All Progressives Congress, APC ‘Leader’, as he’s fondly, bares his mind on some issues agitating the minds of Nigerians.
On the state of the nation
Nigeria’s civil war was fought because some people lost their leaders violently but thank God we got out of the war and came back to one Nigeria.
But the civil war has also created its own problems, mental and emotional and the rest of them both for the victor and the vanquished. There are victims but we kept on moving as if nothing happened. Instead of us to find out the cause, we attributed the problems to ethnic or religious groups.
Certain structures have been put in place to ensure national unity and cohesion. I was in Calabar for my NYSC which is one of the structures set up for national cohesion. Meanwhile some people continue to feel short-changed. And our children, unfortunately, instead of moving away from the different problems, are growing and meeting the same problems.
From what you said now, can one infer that it’s because the elders have disappointed Nigeria that we have people like Nnamdi Kanu agitating for Biafra?
Everybody was battling from all directions to consolidate national unity. Somebody conceived the idea of the NYSC, somebody else did the 3Rs: Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reintegration in an effort to forge unity. So, we are all doing our best but the complexity of the problems is overwhelming.
So why did people like Kanu and IPOB come up?
This is not his first attempt to rally people with regional interests together, but nobody seemed to bother about him. Northern leaders also have children, unfortunately, instead of checking them, they didn’t.
What is your advice to Nigerians on the agitations?
We have to learn to be more tolerant and accommodating of each other and control our utterances. You can make your point without insulting anybody or trying to set the nation on fire. Everybody has the capacity to insult.
What do you think the role of government should be in all of these?
In this kind of situation, government cannot do much because nobody is breaking any particular law, unless you now make a law that I shouldn’t insult a fellow Nigerian on religion, ethnicity, there is nothing government can do. The issue is where next do we go? We need to sit down and reconstruct our country and our expectations; otherwise the younger ones will go out of control. We lack the patience of Obasanjo, Buhari and co the same way our own younger ones are crazier than us and the Obasanjos don’t have the patience of the Akintolas, the Ahmadu Bellos, the Awolowos and the Azikiwes, that’s why we went to war during their (Obasanjos) time.
So, how do you think we can reconstruct this country and avert this looming national crisis?
We need to sit down and listen to the complaints of people, possibly every 3-4 years, until we get to a situation where we have stabilized. Some of these problems are exaggerated really because we are building a united nation whether we like it or not. Some of us are married way out of where we come from. So if we continue like that for some time and continue to talk to one another, we may come to a situation where we will stabilize but will still not be able to cure the issue of a mad man out of 170 million people with loud speaker in his hand like we have this situation now that there are mad people all over the place. These are matters we have talked about and it’s about time to resolve them. When we periodically sit together, then people will begin to appreciate. But right now, what we have is a situation where a man with the oil tells you, ‘we are the owners of the oil, what are the others contributing to the nation?’ So, instead of helping matters, they further create animosity and utterances like that don’t unite the nation. and, like the nuclear powers say ‘balance of terror’, we also have ‘balance of annoyance’; you annoy me, I annoy you. We should be looking for areas of unification, not what you have done to me or what pain I’ve caused you, what pain you have caused me.
Can we talk about the consequences?
If it is going to cause us to break up, only God knows. We may struggle to keep together but if God has decided that it should be so, we will be together; but if destiny says we will scatter, there’s nothing we can do. And there’s no part of Nigeria that cannot stand on its own in case of the nation breaking up. Even countries that are not bigger than Kwara State are surviving. So if we scatter into 36 nations, no problem. But let us try to keep the country together.
What are the advantages of staying together as a nation?
We are 170 to 180 million people, where do you see that number of people in Africa? And that’s a plus. Nigerians are all over the world contributing to their economies. So there is advantage in size, but managing the size and the complexities is what everybody is afraid of. But that shouldn’t be a problem; we should be able to manage the complexities. The simplest complexity is your house, family and you know what you go through. Now you are talking about 170 million people in one place. Everybody speaks different language, goes to different church, worships different god. And you don’t expect people to clash, there will be clashes.
But the leadership needs to appreciate the complexities and work towards finding a balancing so that everybody works towards it. That’s why you have law against robbery; they catch you, they shoot you. You have law against stealing, you steal my property, and they send you to jail. So there must be also laws to keep the country together.
What is your take on corruption?
We are fighting it. There are some people who, by their nature, when they get into office, their illegal activities will increase. Incidentally, the person we have in government now says he has ‘zero tolerance for corruption’. The fight against corruption during his season has been very tough. But you have no guarantee that next season, the person in charge may not have problems tackling corruption and corruption will be back. In 1967-70, you couldn’t be telling Gowon about corruption, he had a business to win the civil war. That was the priority then and when he finished that, he instituted the three Rs. You get to another government; it tells you its policies based on the prevailing situation. Now we have a situation in which government says ‘zero tolerance for corruption’. Corruption has not done us any good and corruption will not sleep. You can’t come and say you want to arrest me and you will want me to sit down and be waiting for you. So beneficiaries of corruption must find a way not to be caught. If caught, he will be prosecuted and possibly jailed; if jailed, he will find a way of getting out of prison. But government has options. If you decide you are going to fight corruption as much as possible, the police, lawyers, judges are very important. If the police don’t arrest the corrupt man, it is not a corrupt case; if the man has been arrested and you present a bad case, it is no case submission; so everybody has to do his job. But at the same time, you don’t expect the corrupt man to just sit down and allow you to come and arrest him. The complexities in the system are overwhelming. So we should be appreciative and the person who says he is ready to fight corruption, let him do it. Mr. President has quite a lot of problems to handle, so he needs our prayer and assistance.
How do you assess your party?
We are doing our best. The very fact that we won an election, appointed the ministers, was it not wonderful? We have done the first, second budget and we are now in the third; expenditure, capital, recurrent and you heard about cases of corruption here and there. Boko Haram has been decimated.
What is your perception of dividends of democracy to the people?
Dividends of democracy are the activities, the capital and recurrent expenditure of government. Another aspect of dividends of democracy is housing which is not measurable. Do the people have access to affordable housing? The people are in the best position to answer that question. The capital expenditure is based upon the direction in which you want to move. The opposition will begin to tell us that we are not doing anything. But we say we are doing something. Whether you like it or not, if you see government money now to steal, you will think twice before you touch it.