•`Why we fought against Jonathan’s re-election’
•Says he didn’t plan to be VC
•`How T.Y Danjuma abandoned college for the Army
•Speaks on alleged scheme to be VP to Osinbajo during President’s illness
Professor Ango Abdullahi, a former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, served under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo as the Special Adviser on Food Security. He also served in the constitution conferences of 1978/88, 1994/95 and 2005. Abdullahi, who is the Convener of Northern Elders’ Forum, NEF, turned 80 on December 13, 2018. The northern leader does not shy away from speaking out on issues of national importance. He sat down with Northern Region Editor, Soni Daniel, at his expansive Arewa Agricultural Enterprises Farm in Zaria for over three hours during which he fielded questions on his life, career and politics. Excerpts:
At 80, how does it feel like?
Well, I feel what you see from outside and I also feel what I feel from inside. The other day a friend told me at the elders meeting ‘you don’t look the 80 years you are claiming or are you making it up?’ And I said no. You may be seeing something younger than 80 years but that is what you feel and you have to allow me to also feel what I feel inside that is commensurate with 80 years. There is nothing more to say but to thank God for His mercy, for His grace to spare my life from the cradle to 80 years in a country where life expectancy is 48 years. This is something that runs in the family.
The genes of longevity are very strong in our family because my father died at the age of 100. He was born in 1890 and died in 1990 and he never prayed sitting down; he was always standing erect and the day he was playing with his grandchildren and got up around 7pm preparing to go for the evening prayer and collapsed, we knew something was wrong. He never had communication with any of us for seven weeks before he passed on. That was the only time we saw him falling ill. And in like fashion, most of my elder brothers are 90 years and above but, for now, I am the oldest surviving male from my father. We are nine surviving children from my father but I am the oldest of the males.
Can you share your life experience as a young man?
I was born on December 13, 1938 in a village about 30 kilometres from Zaria, which is actually in old Giwa, not the present Giwa and the reason we are now Yakawada is because when I was two years old in 1940, my father was appointed the village head of Yakawada and so we had to move from Giwa to Yakawada and this is what changed my domicile technically from Giwa to Yakawada. We moved to Yakawada when I was six years old in 1944 and children were being recruited or rather ‘captured’ to go to Boko (school), Makarantan Boko, at that time and my father, being the village head, had this difficult job of getting recruits into the elementary school that was nearest to our village.
The elementary school was located in Kaya, the home town of a former governor of Kaduna State Balarabe Musa. One of my elder brothers was beyond the age of going to elementary school and I was too young at the age of six because the ages from which people were recruited were 11,12 and13. So my father got my cousin, the son of his elder sister who was ripe for school, and said ‘you are going together with other people from the village’. And, as the village head, rumours started flying about that he had refused to send his own child to school. In anger, he said to me, ‘you must go to school even though you are only six years old and you are not qualified to do so’.
My mother would not take such a suggestion and was wondering how she could allow a young boy like me to enrol in elementary school. Her only consolation was that her junior sister was one of the wives of the teachers at the school. She still wasn’t happy even though her sister was there. So, she decided that one of my older sisters must accompany me to the school so that she could help me to do the chores that a six-year-old could not do.
I stayed for one year and you know, according to our customs, you don’t get circumcised unless you are seven years old. So I went without circumcision but one year after, I was brought back to do mine. Looking back now, I think it was God’s intervention for me to blaze the trail in the nucleus family and I can say that I was lucky among the older boys to be able to answer the questions they could not answer and the teacher was really impressed with my performance. So each time the older ones could not answer questions in the classroom, I would be called upon to answer it but, of course,
I suffered the consequence because, at break or after school, the knocks that would come on my head from the older boys would be very hard. So, when the knocks became almost unbearable, I started declining to answer any question in class. After four or five years of elementary school, we moved to a remedial school, which was a kind of junior secondary school that did not use English as a means of communication and teaching. After two years in the remedial school, I sat for examination and moved to Barewa College in 1952-53, which was the only secondary school in Northern Nigeria.
We were 50 who went to Barewa out of which only five were from Zaria. The rest came from other parts of the country. Government College Keffi started in 1950 as the second secondary school in Northern Province in addition to a few missionary schools in Gindiri, Egbe in Kabba. We went to Barewa in 1953 which was a continuation of Katsina College. That was the basis on which Sardauna created this kind of forceful unity among pioneer northern leaders. That is what made the North a cohesive political force in the days of politics. It is this coup that brought the pioneer leaders of northern Nigeria and to some extent Nigeria itself. Balewa College produced five heads of state – Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, General Gowon, Shehu Shagari, Yar’ Adua and Murtala Muhammed. Most of the leaders of Northern Nigeria ended up in Kaduna, being the political headquarters of the region and may be that is what gave rise to northern leaders seeing things together, working together and succeeding together.
Is that where the so-called Kaduna Mafia originated from?
The Kaduna Mafia has always been the imagination of the people in a way. Recently my name appeared as a member of the Kaduna Mafia who wanted to do something that I was not even aware of. The story was that I was one of the northern elite, who discussed how the President should be removed from office and his vice (Osinbajo) installed as President after naming a particular northerner as a vice for Osinbajo, something that I was not a party to or was not even aware of. The rumour then was that all other members of the group had agreed to the proposal to remove Buhari and install Osinbajo with a northern vice president except me. But the President must have been made to know who these people are but certainly I was not part of the group and I don’t know who they are and what they were planning to do when the President first took ill and was out of the country for a long time.
In fact, Buhari himself talked about the incident the other day, saying that some people wished him dead and had already started lobbying for the post of vice president. Again, Osinbajo confirmed it but stopped at mentioning the name of those involved. The way my name came into the story is that they approached Osinbajo and asked whether he would agree to persuade Buhari to resign on account of ill health and for him to take over from Buhari if we in the North would nominate a vice for him. Of course, Osinbajo said “No, not at all”. So, in the speculation they did there, they also said that when they brought the idea to me, I was the only one in the clique. They said that my name was number 7 in the group. This was all speculation of what “the Kaduna Mafia did” and my name was bandied about as a member of the group.
So, where did you go after Barewa College?
After Balewa College, I got admitted to the Nigerian College of Arts and Technology, Zaria. There were three colleges at that time, one in Ibadan, one in Enugu and one in Zaria. We got admission into the college alongside a number of friends. Even though we were not from the same secondary school, I remember we met TY Danjuma, who was admitted the same year and, indeed, his room was next to mine. One day, we came out of morning lectures and we were approaching our rooms and he said to me, ‘Ango, I’m going’, and I said ‘going where?’ And he said ‘I’m leaving’ and I asked again ‘leaving for where?’ He said ‘I’m going to join the army’. I said ‘why wait this long?’ because a lot of our colleagues like Abba Kyari and the rest of them, who had long made up their minds to join the army from day one, had since done so. I said to him ‘what happened in your own case?’ and he replied: ‘My parents refused to allow me to join the army when I wanted to and I had to wait and that was why I came to the college but yesterday I got their letter permitting me to join the Nigerian Army’.
I told him, ‘In terms of culture or even religion, obedience to parents will translate into something very good for a child. I can assure you are going to be a successful military man’ and today he is still very difficult to beat in terms of records in military integrity and so on. That was how we started our A level in the college because there was no university in the country except University of Ibadan that eventually admitted us in 1961. Historically, we were the last set of University College students who got the University of London degree because it was the university that Ibadan was affiliated to. Professor Wole Soyinka was just graduating when we got admission to Ibadan, while Adamu Ciroma was our senior. Chief Olu Falae was in the same hall with me even though he was studying economics and was two years my senior. Jim Nwobodo was one year my junior but we were in the same hall. There were some Nigerians whom we shared life together at the University of Ibadan who have been fortunate to knock the doors of politics, business and so on.
After graduating from Ibadan in 1964, I started my career with the Northern Nigeria Ministry of Agriculture but as soon as I reported for documentation in the ministry, they said my station would be Samaru. At that time, Ahmadu Bello University had been established in 1962 and the institutions that were there formed the nucleus of many of the departments and faculties of the university. The Institute of Agriculture Research that we know now was a research department of Northern Nigeria Ministry of Agriculture and when it was incorporated into ABU academically, it changed into the Institute for Agriculture Research, and that’s where my first posting was in 1964. That was where my friend, Onazi, and I started our career in ABU and that is where we were until I became the Director of the institute.
While I was still serving as Director, then – Vice Chancellor, Professor Akinkugbe, called me to his office. He was also our teacher at Ibadan. He studied medicine. He told me that he had been studying the university tradition and he wanted to appoint a deputy vice chancellor in defiance of the tradition of having a vice chancellor and two deputies. He asked me if I would be ready to combine my work as the Director of the Institute for Agriculture Reseach and a deputy vice chancellor. I asked him to give me a week to consult my colleagues and think about it. I reported back to him and I became his deputy. The system was a bit rough and tough but I suffered together with him since I was his deputy but he eventually threw in the towel and left me to act. That was the beginning of my appointment as vice chancellor which I did not plan for. For that reason, when the time came for people to apply for the post of VC, I refused to apply even though the advertisement had been pasted everywhere and was from my office.
When my colleagues asked why I did not apply, l said l was only holding the fort to enable the university get a substantive VC and that I wanted to return to my post as the Director of the Institute for Agriculture Research. But they took advantage of a particular provision in the appointment of VC, which says a search party could be established by council to approach people who they think can be VC but have not applied. One day I came back from a meeting in Poland and one of the professors said ‘so you refused to apply for the VC post’ and I said ‘yes I am not interested’ and I was not going to apply. But he told me ‘for your information your name is in the box’ and when I asked who put my name there, he said he and some people did. And that was how I became the Vice Chancellor of ABU. The system there was just like a family and all of us behaved like brothers and sisters. Although we were drawn from different disciplines, there was no form of acrimony.
How far has the Northern Elders Forum gone in your search for a consensus presidential candidate in the 2019 elections?
The Northern Elders Forum came into existence as a political activist group. It did not call itself a socio-cultural organisation. When we formed it, we made it clear; it is a political activist group. Our mission is to partake actively in national politics within the context of one Nigeria that is historically based on regions and diversity. Whether we like it or not diversity, ethnicity can never disappear much as we have tried to see whether we can overcome. We have not overcome up till now.
In fact what aggravates this is that some people would say we only know ourselves; we don’t know others in the same country. There is no convergence of interests like what our parents did during their time.
They did wonderfully for us, giving the number of years that the British brought us together; we were able to see Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sardauna and others sitting together and looking at the country far ahead of where they were at that time. Sardauna’s philosophy was that if we are not one and we cannot be one immediately. Our first step is to understand our differences. Once we can understand our differences at any given point, we should be able to move forward. This was the philosophy that led to some parts of the country attaining self government before the others. The West and East got self government in 1957 while the North got its own in 1959. It was a source of quarrel but then they eventually understood the need to let one another progress at their own pace.
As at that time, the North had only one secondary school while there were already PhD holders in the West and the East.
If we are going to really move this country correctly to the future, this search must be conducted thoroughly.
“I was in the fore front in getting Buhari elected. Everybody knows the role I played and some of which got me some bad names across the country. I was called parochial, sectional and tribal person by some people but since I know my own history it never bothered me. I don’t think there is anybody among my peers that has more national credentials than I have given my antecedents, the schooling, where I worked and what I have done politically”.
When we fought against Jonathan’s re-election in 2015, we did it on two basic reasons. The first reason was reneging on an agreement that the South would run for the Presidency for a period of eight years (which Obasanjo did) and the North would take over for an equivalent period of time.
Obasanjo did his first four years; the Constitution says he could go for a second term. We did an expanded caucus meeting. If you go to Audu Ogbe, he will show you the list of those who met at the expanded caucus and agreed that Obasanjo should have another four years under the constitution and power shift arrangement. At the end of the day, Obasanjo did eight years on behalf of the South and the North was expected to also run for eight years. Obasanjo almost did wuruwuru when he came up with a Third Term agenda. Of course, we fought against it under the auspices of the Northern Union.
We were led by Dr Olusola Saraki, the father of the current Senate Predident (Bukola Saraki) to fight Obasanjo’s Third Term. I was his deputy in the Northern Union. When Obasanjo failed to achieve his Third Term agenda, he singlehandedly picked Umar Musa Yar’Adua. We almost resisted but our Sardauna Kekere (Sunday Awoniyi ) called us to order. He said you’ve got a northerner; help him. He sat us down in Kaduna to write all sorts of memos to help President Yar’Adua to take off. Umar Yar’Adua died three years into office. In political terms and working on the basis of arrangement, the Constitution says that his deputy will finish their term for the first four years. We had no quarrel with that, but at the end of that term and based on an agreement of eight years and eight years, the North was still being owed at least four years.
The PDP needed not to debate but merely needed to say: North, who is the candidate lets agree because it is not a northern candidate but a Nigerian President. But they said no; that was the first reason of quarrel.
The second anger was he (Jonathan) himself said he was not aware of power shift and people should show him the paper which he signed for power shift. So we took it that the man had taken us for stupid people.
So at the end of the day, were we were vindicated because the PDP itself said that they lost the election because they reneged on the power rotation agreement. This is why as early as possible they announced that their candidate this time would come from the North.
When Jonathan was defeated, the Northern Elders Forum sat down and rationalized that Jonathan was not defeated because he is an Ijaw or because he is Christian or because he is from Southern Nigeria.
But the one (President Buhari) that is on ground now, should know that we in the north are expecting a certain level of performance. His re-election will not be based on sentiments of his being a northerner; his re-election will be based on the basis of performance. If he is not performing we should be able to first of all tell him. It was from this house that a memo was sent to him with an advice, led by the late Maitama Sule and other elders. This was taken to him by way of advice. Buhari ignored it. We reminded him, he ignored it.
But the most important thing is, assuming things were working we need not worry. But things are not working. This man took six months to constitute a cabinet and when he eventually did, by our own estimation, it was full of riff-raffs. Some were good but … thank God that even his wife has vindicated us that the people running the government are either people that even he does not know or people who have no political value addition to governance. So when we started complaining to our elders they said maybe we were hasty.
But I said no and some people kept coming to me because I was their spokesman. They requested that all PAN Northern groups should all sit down and evaluate the progress that has been made by this administration. This was the basis of our meeting and communique of March 24, 2018. These various groups converged on Sardauna’s Conference Room, Arewa House, Kaduna. I chaired the meeting and even when the Arewa Consultative Forum denied what we wrote as our communique, the names of very senior ACF are there for all to see.
The communique did not go down well but we were very honest particularly where we warned that: “No northern politician should expect to be voted in the next general elections unless they demonstrate a willingness to champion a massive assault on poverty and under-development especially in the North. So it is in this regard that all political office holders are hereby served notice that they have failed the test to lead the region towards economic recovery and growth.”
For those of you from outside the North, if you want to be fair, you will admit that there is abject poverty in this part of the country.
This communique was signed by 18 different groups. Of course, some of us who are close to the government were angry. They said: “Why should we fail Buhari or his government?” But I said well, you remember that we said that even if it is one of the so-called our own that is not doing well, he should be told. If he doesn’t heed advice, we should fight.
So it is based on that communique that the Northern groups and other groups outside the North began to ask the questions. Are you satisfied with the performance of this government? Are you searching for a replacement? I personally and quite a number of others have said: Yes, we should search for a replacement and we’ve started but I am not going to give you details. This is secret.
But even then, there is an agreement that the President of Nigeria is not a northern President but a Nigerian President. So from these groups that are Pan-Northern, we expanded the discussion to reach the Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Niger Delta and Middle Belt Forum.
The reason we don’t believe Buhari should continue given all the things that have happened or have not happened; we don’t think this country will be helped going by even what his wife has said concerning the government.
I don’t hate him and I don’t believe his wife hates him but she has said that there are some people who have held back his government. Whose fault is it? It is his fault because if some people are holding you back from performing, you should take responsibility for it. So it is futile for anybody to come and blame people.
So, what would you say killed our vibrant education system?
Our education system has to collapse because we are doing too many things wrongly. The quality of education we had in the elementary, primary and secondary is no longer the quality of education that was coming out of the system. Funding is at its lowest level and nothing serious can be done given the paucity of money available for learning and teaching. The year I left as VC of ABU, my budget for that year was N50 million and, if you convert it to the current exchange rate, you would be talking about N10 billion today. Which state or federal university gets that kind of money a year today? The purchasing power of the university has drastically reduced the value of money that they used to have to be able to run and most importantly our university system is not technologically based.
Today we need to buy virtually everything from outside and the money is not just there to acquire such items for teaching and practical. Think of what happens then to universities offering medicine, engineering and other technological courses, which require serious inputs. As the budget for schools is diminishing, the rate of illiteracy is widening and that is why they are talking about Nigeria having 13.5 million out-of-school children. 10 years from now, these children will become adults. They will be illiterate, no vocational training and, when they get frustrated, they take Tramadol. These are the ones that you should be afraid of so that they do not confront you with guns and other dangerous weapons on the road. The crisis will deepen until somebody really intervenes. We have to avoid this otherwise the country would pay dearly for it.
What can be done to remedy the slide?
First we must agree that leadership, particularly in the last 20 or 30 years, has failed to see this and make contingency plans to deal with the consequences. We know the problem but we are not talking about it, we are rather running away because we don’t want to confront the difficulties of finding solutions. This is a poor country whether we like it or not, resources of Nigeria are not as big as we think. One transnational company like Amazon, its annual budget is bigger than all the budget of all African countries put together, so if we are poor we must behave like poor people our leadership must behave like they are leading poor country and to that extent must show example, everybody must feel a pinch of poverty.
How should Nigeria be restructured to make it more useful to all parts of the country and reduce friction?
I have always argued that our first big mistake was to throw away the parliamentary system of government in favour of the presidential system. We know that the presidential system is not for poor countries. It is a sophisticated capitalist – based political system that gives special privileges and advantages to the strong against the weak. I argue that the parliamentary system is more accountable in that you cannot be a minister of government until you are an elected person from a base. Which means you’re accountable to a base from where you were elected and the people you represent can come to you and express their positions or feelings about what you are doing or not doing. That is accountability at that level and then you come to parliament when eventually the Prime Minister nominates you as a minister. In this case, you are accountable not only to your constituency but also to the parliament and of course accountable to the Prime Minister who nominated you. So there are various levels of accountability and each one can be important and effective.
Apart from accountability, the presidential system we are practising in Nigeria today is corruption-ridden. And since there is no accountability, there is impunity even in corruption. They do what they want and there is nowhere for you to run to complain and get redress. During the Jonathan administration, some of the ministers were doing many things that were wrong and they got away with it. Even now under the Buhari regime, when people make allegations, he will say bring evidence. Evidence was produced against many of his ministers but what happened? Nothing! So if we are going to restructure this country, which I believe we should, the first thing is to dump this presidential system for the parliamentary system which is a more accountable, less corrupt and cheaper system of government.
But many Nigerians are of the view that once devolution of power is done, all will be well. Is that what you are saying too?
This is why I am saying we have to do it systematically and fundamentally because if it is just juggling of the Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative lists, whether it is state police or mineral rights, all these, particularly with these fractured, totally – inefficient and wasteful structures called states, won’t solve the problem. I will give you an example of the North where I started my career; there was only one Governor, there was only one Premier, there were 17 Permanent Secretaries, there was one legislative house and, of course, there was the house of chiefs.
Those structures, few as they were, were working. We had light, we had water, you could sleep with your doors wide open; the hospitals were working. We went through school from elementary to university entirely free with the government providing uniforms, pocket money and food without oil money as we have today. Oil money began to make a difference only in 1974. Chief Awolowo prosecuted the Nigerian Civil War without borrowing one kobo. So the issue here is really about leadership.
What shape of restructuring do you think is good enough for Nigeria?
We need a constitutional restructuring because when, in 1976, the Constituent Assembly was put together by the Murtala/Obasanjo regime, those who went were told that the parliamentary system was a ‘no-go area’. They were not even allowed to debate the pros and cons of the parliamentary vis a vis the presidential system. They were just asked to go and borrow a presidential system whether American or French model. This is what led us to the kind of trouble that we have today. As a result of it, Nigerians will quarrel with their neighbours and, before you know it, they say let’s create states so that the neighbours can stop quarrelling. Before you knew it, more local governments were created and so on.
But we now have Resource Control /Derivation Principle as a means of assuaging the feelings of marginalisation of the mineral-bearing states of Nigeria. Has it solved the problems?
No. No. We are not opposed to it. Let us look at these things logically and historically. In 1914, did we have oil? Were we even dreaming that there was oil somewhere? Oil was discovered in commercial quantity in 1956. What the founding fathers of this country were concerned about was: How do we achieve nation-building? When the British came, they first created Lagos Colony, Southern Protectorate and Northern Protectorate. When this country was eventually moulded into Nigeria, from these colonies and territories, my father was not consulted neither was your father or grandfather consulted.
The British, in their own wisdom, decided that this was the way to do it so that they could more effectively administer the entire territory. Who did they sit with when they decided that this part will be Western Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria or Northern Nigeria? None of our fathers was consulted; it was entirely their own creation. This was what our founding fathers had to grapple with; hoping that, at one point, there will be one country. This is something that we have to keep in mind all the time.
As long as our arguments all the time is that ‘this is what I want to corner for myself irrespective of the other person’s interest’, we will continue to waste valuable time in nation-building. I believe that if you look at the Constitution…I was a member of several Constitutional Conferences and what I saw in terms of these divisive tendencies; in terms of this chorus of ‘marginalization’, I really get worried. The truth must be told and, as long as we avoid telling the truth, there is never going to be a meeting point.
Take Niger Delta for instance, oil has been sitting there and our grandparents didn’t know there was oil. They knew that there was water around them where they caught fish but, somewhere along the line, the adventurous white man came and discovered that there was something under the water called oil. Did our people in the Niger Delta know how to get it out? The white man had to come and get it out. To me, oil, I have given it a name. It’s not a very popular name. It’s called idle money. Idle money in the sense that nations are not built on idle money; nations are built on the basis of the work of their people. Look at various countries around the world today, including those that do not have oil like Japan and Israel, it is work, creative work.
The oil that we have been quarrelling about, what have we done with it all these years? I once served on a Committee alongside the late Gamaliel Onosode and Adebayo Adedeji to look at the state of our oil industry. We called in some experts from France to come and give us a rundown of the situation in our oil industry. When I read the report, I was shedding years because in all these quarrels we’ve been having among ourselves, Nigeria benefits only 18 percent of the total oil business in Nigeria. The remaining benefits go to the multinationals. If you look at the situation now in terms of the future of oil in the world today given the debate on climate change, self-driven cars and electric cars, you will discover that we have missed a lot of opportunities. If, for example, in 1974, when General Gowon (former Head of state) was so happy when we began to have a huge inflow of revenue, we had used the resources wisely, we won’t be here. He was even saying that Nigeria’s problem was not money but how to spend it. Today we import virtually everything.
We don’t produce anything. Is that the way to build a country? So all these matters, we should be able to rationalize and resolve them. In the Constitutional Conference of 1994, the percentage for derivation at that time was seven percent. Shehu Yar’Adua chaired a committee that said that the northern delegates should accept that it should be raised to 13 percent so that they could use it to address the loss of fishing grounds, loss of agricultural lands and so on. We rioted but we agreed eventually. So the issue is not so much about the money available but how well we are managing the resources in the country.
This is the crux of the matter. I think what we need to do (I was telling my elders) is to sit down seriously and define the kind of restructuring Nigeria requires. I told them but they couldn’t believe it that the North requires more restructuring than even the South. But let’s sit down and discuss it. When we discuss it, we will come to a common understanding of what we mean by restructuring. Then we put in place an administration that will listen and also understand us. We will be on the same page with the administration. But if Buhari wins the next election, you can forget it because you won’t get it. He may not understand it himself.
But the candidate of the PDP has promised to restructure Nigeria within six months of his presidency. Do you think he can accomplish that within such a timeframe?
I talked to Atiku last week. I said ‘I hope you’re doing your home work very well because the thing that will challenge you is to say something that you are not able to implement or do within the timeframe you have said it will be done’. This was what Obasanjo did with power. Obasanjo is a personal friend and, just before winning the 1999 presidential election, he started shouting that before the December of that year there would be no power failure in Nigeria. I told him, ‘keep your cool. Don’t bring this out because you will not be able to do it’.
He said he was going to put money there. I agreed but told him that putting money there would not translate to getting the electricity. He put the money and appointed the late Bola Ige as Minister of Power and Steel Development but one year after I met him (Obasanjo) and asked how far he had gone with his promise on electricity, he said, ‘Ango don’t come with your trouble o’. I said, ‘I told you before. If you are making assumption that money alone would do it, you would not get electricity in Nigeria with all the money spent’. This was exactly what happened. South Africa spent only $5 billion to generate 30,000 megawatts of electricity.
Today, Iran produces 20,000 megawatts of electricity every year. If they don’t use it, they sell it. So we the elite are largely responsible for the crisis Nigeria is going through. In fact, the restructuring we require is the restructuring of the mindset of the Nigerian elite to accept that he is responsible by virtue of an advantage in education which he got from public fund, not willing to really look at the country as one entity.
As public officers, how much of Nigeria beyond our immediate communities, do we know? How many times have you seen members of the National Assembly flying in a helicopter to visit all parts of Nigeria for them to see physically the challenges facing each and every part of this country? Yes, we know oil pollution and oil spillage but have we bothered to go and see the realities of desert and sand dunes in our country? Of course, I am from this part of the country but when Obasanjo challenged me to do something on desert encroachment and deforestation programme and I came face to face with the reality.
Later on, this particular President (Buhari) when he was the Chairman, Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), he also raised the same challenge. They commissioned my farm to do something on desert encroachment. I rode on a Four Wheel Drive from Murtala Nyako’s farm in Adamawa to Lake Chad and along our border with Niger, up to Sokoto. There were times when within five minutes, you would see a storm coming and nobody could see anything again. What is it? It’s not rain; it’s sand storm. By the time it ends, it would have buried as many villages as possible on its way. I mean villages buried completely. It’s happening in your country. These people are also in difficulty. What are you as leaders doing about it? This is something that should also bring our mindset to the position that if we want to address holistically the challenges of our country, we should be prepared to defend the interests of every part of it.
The Constitution clearly states that Nigeria should strive to achieve even development across the country. It also abhors monopolistic tendencies by individuals or groups of individuals in terms of concentration of resources in a few hands.
This is why the new trend where we are being told that government should not be involved in business is a curious concept which is not good for us. The western world wants free market economy because they have the technology and they have the capital. They are the ones who, through their proxies, bought most of our assets in this country.
What’s your view about the clamour for the return to the regional structure we had before the military intervention in 1966?
I support completely the collapsing of the present 36 states into something more sensible, more economical and even more socially cohesive because the creation of these states has even created more division in Nigeria. The unity we used to have is no more there. In those days, my brother from Benue could wake up one day and find a job advert in Kano, apply for it and get it. But now, because of statism or even sectionalism being an Idoma man, you might not even be able to get a job in a Local Government where a Tiv man is the Chairman. This is what we are having now. So to me, really these 36 states should collapse into a maximum of six regions. This is a major restructuring I will recommend. Of course with the collapse of these states, the regions will adopt a parliamentary system of government that makes election a basic need for anybody to hold a political office or a responsibility like a commissioner or minister.