By AbdulSalam Muhammad
Dr Junaid Mohammed, a frontline northern politician and former member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic never hides his contempt for the Buhari presidency.
In this interview, he believes President Buhari’s weak leadership is responsible for some of the problems we have in the country. He argues that with the current events that are unfolding in the polity, it shows that the Igbo have not learnt any lesson from the last civil war. Also, dissecting Nigeria at 57, Dr Mohammed, a founding member of the Peoples Redemption Party in 1979 suggests what should be done to move the nation forward.
What is your impression of 57 years of Nigeria’s journey to nationhood?
Nigeria, as you know, became independent on October 1, 1960. So by October 1, 2017, Nigeria will be 57 as an independent country. You will agree with me that 57 years is a major milestone in the development of a person, likewise a country. But you will want to believe that nations are born to last one hundred years if not thousands of years.
But Nigeria has not been able to realize its potential over the years. From 1960 till date, Nigeria has massive inflow of petrol dollars, these monies in terms of foreign exchange are massive, they come within a short span of time. The use of such monies however has been less than prudent, the country is being profligate. Most of all, the nation came aboard without an overarching political consensus and since October 1960 and 0ctober, 1963, when the Republican constitution came into force, Nigerian was still being run without major overarching consensus. If history is judge, you will see that nations that have succeeded, some brilliantly, have done so only as a result of their political elites coming together to forge a national consensus that will carry the nation forward.
National consensus presupposes that we know what is legal and what is illegal, we know what are the strategies for economic development, what are the security imperatives within the national consensus, what do we need to do about that national security domestically? The more we try to move forward as a nation, we find out that we are somehow being checkmated by the forces beyond us, forces that are at play, not only with us internally but also at international level. Now, quite a number of people have offered their own explanations on the plight of our underdevelopment despite massive potentials that we have.
Corruption has been mentioned as a major impediment to national development, but the fight against corruption will have to be the cornerstone of our national existence. Some people have a wrong notion that the war against corruption is independent of the war against insurgency or the war against terrorism or the crisis Niger Delta areas. You cannot fight terrorism or poverty or fight corruption independent of the other. They have to be pursued simultaneously within the same time frame, and these fights must be pursued as if it’s the end of our national existence. Quite a number of people who belong to the old generation would always tell us that things were not like this in those days but during the First Republic, there was corruption, during the second Republic there was corruption but it was never regarded as a threat to our national existence. Telling us now that what happened then was the greatest thing that ever happened was a lie.
Quite a number of people who lived through those years were part of the corruption and opportunism and these are people who abused national trust, they have been in public office and have been found to abuse it. Some of them have been indicted by commissions of inquiry and stripped of their property. These are not the kind of people who will tell the youths to do it their own way because they did it very badly. And we have to be very cautious about blaming people, because a man who has been implicated in corruption cannot come and say during his time there was no corruption, that is sheer nonsense. Older people cannot be telling us that their time was the best whereas in their time corruption was worst. If you talk of corruption, and insurgency, you have what is called pre-existing and pre-determining factors.
For example, a nation which is not united in terms of primordial identities will find itself in a very difficult situation to A nation which is not united in terms of primordial identities will find itself in a very difficult situation to come together to pursue national strategies for development because quite a number of people depending on their primordial identities have difficulty in coming together to do what need to be done come together to pursue national strategies for development because quite a number of people depending on their primordial identities have difficulty in coming together to do what need to be done. I want Nigerians to use the independent day celebrations to sit down and do a lot of soul searching. Do we deserve to be in this kind of situation? Why is our situation far from ideal? We must not answer these questions by turning to social media to abuse people.
So, the idea that you can have many newspapers or media assets concentrated in one small area of the country and they now want to dictate and determine what happens nationally, in my view is a great miscalculation. For over a period of 40 years that I have been in national politics, I have seen that those elements in Lagos media have never been able to persuade the rest of the country to do their own thinking, never. Anytime Lagos press decided on who to support, the man they chose or the party they chose never made it in the election, and if they did, they never formed the government. And that is a pointer that this country of 200 million people is not a country whose destiny can be dictated by few people who are holding pen in either Abuja or Lagos
What do you think was responsible for the situation we found ourselves now?
You have to be very careful going into battle with somebody who does not acknowledge the rules and is also not prepared to accept the rule of fair play. It has to be said that among the leaders of the First Republic who are now being lionised and glamorized, quite a number of them were not prepared to accept the rule when they were defeated as they alleged rigging. As far as I am concerned, even up to the elections in 1950 and 1959, there were problems, but when you look at the balance of play and players, at least it was within reasonable limit, and even in the so called advanced countries, there is no perfection.
I don’t believe one can advance evidence that apart from the Igbo assassination of predominantly northern leaders, there was never evidence that some people were singled out and assassinated. Of course the Igbos crossed the red line and they paid for it. But it seems some of them have not learnt, some of them who knew what happened are not prepared to tell their younger brethren the truth, and if they try it again, the same thing will be visited on them, I have no doubt about that in my mind.
You seem to support operation Python dance in the south east
Let me tell you, considering the statement emanating from IPOB, Kanu, and Ohaneze itself, if they find themselves confronting the military, they have to blame themselves for it. The military did not deploy their hardware for nothing, why are they in the east? why are they not in Kano? or in Abuja or in other areas in the south south? If they want to challenge the federal might, they must be prepared to accept the consequences of that challenge. I believe majority of Nigerians believe in this country and they will want to keep it at peace and united . If the Igbos believe that the only way to achieve a political advantage is by threatening the very existence of the country in terms of war, let us see what will happen. We also have some people demanding Oduduwa Republic. After the general election of 1964, we knew what happened thereafter when the Igbos took what the Yorubas were saying literally about the east going and the west would follow them.
The Igbos went away and the Yoruba took over their businesses, and their bank accounts, and other things. If the Igbos want to go because they have not learnt, good luck to them. As far as I am concerned, I do know that there have been irresponsible statements emanating from Kanu, and other predominantly Igbo organizations including the MASSOB, and the Ohaneze, and if they find themselves in confrontation with institutions that have been created to hold Nigerians united and they find themselves working against that, operation python dance is therefore justified. What is so special about them? You cannot have a democracy without the rule of law, and if anybody believed that the kind of agitation they have embarked upon could deliver Igbo presidency for them, let us see how they will achieve it. Because I know they don’t have the numbers to come up with an Igbo president, they have to persuade other Nigerians, and I don’t know how they can achieve that by threatening other people. At the time we had the last civil war, among the factors that encouraged them to undertake Biafran misadventure that cost them over one million people was the belief that they had enough army officers of Igbo extraction.
They plotted a coup, carried it out and they believed they could go on and win a civil war, but they failed woefully and if they want to try it again, they will fail. Before the civil war, the Igbo had key positions, they had chief of army staff in Ironsi, they had Nwokedi as the Secretary to the Federal Government who ran the Army and the Civil Service as if they were Igbo extension. After the counter coup, and throughout the civil war, we thought they had learnt some lesson. And now with the performance of Anyim as the Secretary to the federal Government, and the performance of Ihejirika, we now know that the Igbos did not learn anything and did not forget anything. On this premise, do you think other Nigerians will readily concede the leadership of this country to them? I don’t know of any other group in Nigeria who will be prepared to do that because nobody wants to sign a suicide note prepared by somebody in the south east simply because we want to live in peace.
Where do you situate the leadership and the rulership in this quagmire?
Leadership is a very important factor in any situation, but I also don’t believe that leadership alone in itself is enough to prevent people from reaping the consequences of their disaster. Yes, Nigerian leadership has been reasonable. At independence, we have very powerful regions led by very powerful people. Fast forward from 1962 to date, why is it that there is a generalised consensus about a northerner, who he is and what he stands for? There is only a marginal consensus about south westerner, and when you talk about a south westerner, you must not fail to include the people of Edo and Delta who are now being excised from the inheritance of Chief Awolowo from colonial days. Then look at the east, we have nothing but shamble because those people in the south south believe they have their own identities, and that Igbo identity does not and will not mean anything to them. And because of the unity and sense of belonging among the successors of these eminent regional leaders, you can see it clearly that Ahmadu Bello did a wonderful job, despite that my own heritage did not support him, still you have to admit that he did a better job for the north than the others have done among themselves for their own people.
So, leadership is very important, but leadership itself can only drag a horse to a river, it cannot force it to drink water. Some people needed to be persuaded to come along in this great endeavour of nation building, but some people had to be kicked along to partake in the national development, while other people simply didn’t want to hear that because at the time of creation of states in the south east and south south, you can see there was no single voice that we had to remain with the Igbos among the minority in the south east . In fact, they were hilarious, they were very happy to part and they never looked backward. Now, if however, the remnants of the Igbo elites who were responsible for the civil war want to play another game, they are welcome. In one hand, the weakened President Buhari leadership contributed to some of the problems we have today, because if we had a President who is well, mentally and physically, if we had a President who is up and doing , who knows what he is doing, and who knows how to recruit good people and give them free hand to go and do what need to be done, we would not have been in this kind of mess. A President who believed that only his relations were good to be given national assignments even when some of them never held any position in government on which you could hold them accountable, is a very serious matter for the country. So they should be careful in what they do because we do not know what will happen tomorrow, we don’t know what the scenario will look like after Buhari’s presidency, but even with the little powers and presidential goodwill which are now being exercised by Buhari, and his relations and the cabal,
There is nothing wrong with the 1999 constitution, and there is nothing wrong with the 1963 constitution or any other constitution which pre-dated 1963 the fact is that there are still majority of people who believe in Nigeria and are prepared to fight for Nigeria. Those who want to take on Buhari’s presidency or those who want to challenge the federal might should be careful, because what they wished for might not be good for them. I believe the issue you raised marginally about the military is an important factor. But who can you hold responsible for politicising the military? The Nigerian politicians of course, especially the politicians who encouraged the military to carry out the 1966 coup in which they went ahead and listed people who should be eliminated and were eliminated, and they expect they would now come and inherit the mantle of leadership in the country? Even if you say the military is bad and they were guilty of what they were accused off, it was the politicians who encouraged some elements in the military to carry out a coup. And in carrying out the coup, it was a tribal and sectional coup which brought bad omen and also led to the near break up of the country with a price tag of one million lives.
Don’t you think restructuring is the way out?
Fiscal federalism, resource control, IPOB agitation are modern day slogans and cliche. As a slogan you can demand fiscal federalism, look at the reason they advanced for these agitations. The people who are in the forefront of this clamour are the people in the south west who had had the best from Nigeria from 1960 to date .
Today, wealth per capital in the south west is the highest in any country in sub Saharan Africa. Now, if these people are still saying they have not been fairly treated and there must be restructuring, what will those from the north say? They are the ones whose poverty level is at par with poor countries like Chad, Niger or some of these landlocked countries in the sub Saharan Africa. These people have a lot of money, they are doing better than the rest of the country, yet they are saying let us have fiscal federalism, let us have resource control.
It is very difficult for a country to break up peacefully, we have seen what happened in Yugoslavia, and the attempt by the American and fellow travellers to dismember Syria. We have to be very careful with some of these situations today because historically, they have not ended well. As I am talking to you today, the north occupies 72 percent of the land mass in Nigeria, and constitutes 66 percent of the population of the country. No people with this kind of land mass and population can be poor, if they are, they are stupid. There is this primitive thinking that because some people don’t have oil they are not going to survive in the next Nigeria, that is a serious mistake. As far as I am concerned those who have had the best of Nigeria are the same people behind the current agitation, let us go on with it, and let us see who will blink first.
My concern is that we did not invest in agriculture. All this talk about diversifying our national economy will come to nothing if we do not properly invest in agriculture. And we need to invest in our agriculture not because we depend on agriculture because those who are making noise do not even know the implication of what they are doing because without food they cannot go and mine the oil. Therefore, I am completely persuaded that the way to national salvation is to invest in agriculture and it has to be done sincerely by those who are holding political leadership who will now guide our investment towards agriculture and make sure we are doing well in it and that we are above blackmail by our fellow compatriots internally and also by the rest of the world. If you can feed yourself, you are above blackmail, no one can blackmail you .
What do you think is wrong with the 1999 constitution?
There is nothing wrong with the 1999 constitution, and there is nothing wrong with the 1963 constitution or any other constitution which pre-dated 1963. All the problems associated with those constitutions are man-made and can never be solved by the constitution. If people have no goodwill, and they don’t give a damn about national harmony, national consensus, and the need for people to live together , and make sure they do whatever they are doing to make it a success, there is nothing the constitution can do about it .
If you look at most agitations for restructuring and the nonsense about true federalism and so on, it is emanating from the same area because those who are dissatisfied with the current constitution want to blame it for our national malaise which to me is dishonourable, despicable and dangerously stupid. I say it and I will repeat, all these discordant tunes are tied to the weaknesses of Buhari as President and Buhari’s presidency. And of course, the opportunists in the Kaduna mafia and the cabals would rather hold power and they don’t care because they are comfortable. These are people living without constituency, nobody in Kaduna mafia has any constituency, and nobody has a track record worth talking about when it comes to winning an election but they are now holding us to ransom. So all these show you terrible weaknesses under which we are now surviving. If Buhari is sincere, he should know the game is beyond him. Though he won the election perfectly, nobody is doubting that but we have to find a way of getting ourselves extricated from this eviscerated presidency. We need a government which is working and functional and not a government that has been hijacked by people who have nothing to contribute in terms of education and have not done anything spectacularly well. The only thing they do well is to appropriate the resources of the country to themselves. Buhari has not performed and has not delivered, this country is greater than Buhari, and greater than the north itself.
What do you think can be done to get Nigeria on the track again?
Leadership is very important, without it nothing can be done. We have to get correct leadership, but the correct leadership is not the kind of leadership that you want to say he is honest, you need modern honesty, personal integrity not sloganeering about ‘mai gaskia’, you have to have a person who is thoroughly educated not only by going to school, though it is important, you have to also get somebody who has taken the trouble to learn in life , because life is the greatest university you can have.