By Ebele Orakpo
Dr. Dawuda Gowon is a journalist (BSc. Journalism, electronic and print media, 1978, Utah State University, USA.), an accomplished engineer, economist, all rolled into one. He is an expert in water conservation, policy analysis, desertification, drought, Environmental Impact Assessment, E.I.A, integrated water resources management, irrigation, soil conservation and land management. He supervised and built dams and soil erosion control structures. He did the E.I.A report for several dams before they were built. In this chat with Vanguard, he spoke on the state of the nation viz Nigeria’s past, how we got to the present state and how to get out of the mess. Excerpts:
Tell us a little about yourself:
I am Dr Dawuda T. Gowon, the 10th child of Pa Yohanna and Ma Saraya Gowon, all of blessed memory. I had a younger brother who died some years ago so by force, I am the youngest now.
I went to St. Bartholomew’s Primary School and St. Paul’s College all in Wusasa, Zaria, Kaduna State. I then went to the School of Agriculture, Samaru, Zaria in January 1964 but when the US announced its scholarship, I was one of those who won, so I left for the US in August 1965 for my BSc. in Agric. Engineering. I came back to Nigeria to work, shortly after, I was invited to do my PhD so I went back to the US in 1973, returned in 1980 and began to work for government.
I was offered citizenship more than once in the US but I told them I had to go and serve my country and that was why I came back. I have been involved in the ministries since then. Starting with the Ministry of Agriculture, to Water Resources, later, my entire department was moved to Environment Ministry from where I retired.
Is this the Nigeria you grew up in?
No! No! No! When I started public service, everything was sent by mail; you feared nothing. Honesty and integrity were palpable; you could almost touch, feel and see them unlike now. Even when I went to do my PhD or whenever I was in the US, they sent me my Appraisal form and interviews were conducted. Everything went smoothly, records were kept straight. It wasn’t because I was a Gowon; they did it for everyone I knew so you didn’t miss your promotion. I don’t know how it happened but I was sent the Appraisal form at one time and someone in Lagos sat on it so when I came back, I was still on Grade level 8 with a PhD! The then Permanent Secretary (late Alhaji Liman) saw me and said: ‘You should be Assistant Director now,’ he didn’t know someone sat on my form. They treated us like family; there was nothing like discrimination. Nigeria was Nigeria. As long as you performed, you were okay and if you didn’t perform, you will find out. That was Nigeria then.
How did we get to this sorry state?
That is a most pertinent question.
Like most things momentous, it creeps on you very gradually. Like age, you are born today, with so many birthdays, then you become not just an octogenarian, but centenarian! In between, thing happens that appears insignificant or unimportant. We neglect it at our peril. It could be a small lie or just an anti-social activity. We excuse it with something like ‘boys will be boys, don’t worry it is not serious’; ignoring good home discipline and thinking money solves everything, no justice as a common denominator, politics, a beautiful game, played out of its true context, so on and so forth.
They are a combination of so many ignored bad happenings that have snowballed into this mountain of choking issues that Nigeria must get rid of; that is why every small act of kindness, righteousness and true justice will begin to accumulate and assist us to be the nation we should be.
The word ‘corruption,’ encapsulates ALL the malaises for I define corruption with a very wide brush which includes immorality.
Nigeria absolutely has no business being poor, but will personal aggrandisement allow the very selfish ‘me only’ merchants let the people be?
This situation is self-imposed and we must get rid of it by shining our light in our corners while demanding faithfulness and justice from all layers of authority. Then collectively, we will begin to throw away and upturn this unwelcome bondage.
So a combination and accumulation of anti-social habits over a long duration of time has brought us to where we are.
How can we get out of this quagmire?
Frankly speaking, I am not a prophet or a seer but one thing I know as someone who believes in the Bible, God knows and He sees what is happening. Psalm 94: 9-11 say: ‘ Does he who fashioned the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see?
Does he who disciplines nations not punish?’
God gives us a long time to repent and if we don’t, he will act. It will not be precipitous but he will act in such a way that there is no bloodshed. When he does it, things will change. What encourages me is that many people still have hope.
For the soothsayers, doomsayers and all who say Nigeria is a failed state, fine, we have our problems and issues but I will not curse myself by calling my country a failed state. The fact that you are failing does not mean that the country is failing. What can you do to change your mood and the mood of others to get them to stand and work for Nigeria?
When you say ‘failed state’, you are recruiting an army of hopeless people but once we have some hope and we all do our level best, God will bless it and before we know it, from that small beginning, a great thing shall come. The English man says from the little acorn comes the mighty oak. These acorns of hope and determination to make Nigeria work, will be rewarded by God. The Hausas say: Allah gatan kowa, meaning: Everybody can call on God and He does not fail. A time is coming when these people who are bent on destroying Nigeria will get tired and will beg for peace.
Rich country: Nigeria is the richest country in the world in all respects except in how its people show their character. Tell me one mineral you can’t find in Nigeria? Do you know the minerals, oil wells etc are not the wealth of Nigeria? The wealth of Nigeria is the water that God gives us freely, weather around the equator, very liveable; we don’t have all these disasters others have. Challenge me if you want to.
Great people: Then we have the people so God is working on us. He is not through with us yet. An Israeli friend of mine told me that Plateau State alone, given its weather, can feed all of West Africa. He said if he goes to Mada River, close to Keffi, he can put a hook in the water and catch a good fish and there are many edible leaves in the forest. He knows what he’s talking about.
Nigeria can work: To show you that Nigeria can work, my friend, Alhaji Babagana Zanna, then MD of Chad Basin Development Authority during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s military regime, was given N6.6m to grow wheat in the north. We produced wheat so much so that Australia and Canada were scared. PL480 (Public Law 480, also known as Food for Peace), was enacted so we could get free wheat. Canada was giving us wheat at very cheap rate to discourage our farmers; they said our wheat was only good for biscuits…all lies! but government fell for it. Zanna produced wheat worth N66 million! Remember Canada and Australia, members of the Commonwealth, ensured wheat was cheap because they bought from their farmers and sold. Their farmers were growing and making money while ours were made redundant. As a result of the discouragement, the following year, farmers didn’t grow wheat. God is a God of judgement; the bottom dropped out of the naira/dollar exchange so it was difficult to import wheat. They started begging us to make the farmers produce wheat and we said ‘you discouraged them; they planted a lot of wheat the previous year and nobody bought so they won’t believe you now.
Gurara Dam: When I came back, there was already a program for Gurara but it was still on the shelf. I found out that it is a viable project and could be useful so I polished it. I had to beg one Dr Okoye who went to school in Stanford University, for money from his pocket though it was illegal in government. From that little money, we were able to do research and found that Gurara was viable. The then Water Resources Minister, Abubakar Habu Hashidu who was my classmate in the School of Agriculture said he would not be associated with it but said I should budget for it so it was like giving me a green light without involving government.
World Bank, WB, people came to meet with the Minister, saying that large dams should not be encouraged around the world. I got fed up and I said to the minister: ‘You have to allow me speak as a professional. I have done economics and engineering up to PhD level so I know what I am talking about. I asked the WB Chief of Mission: ‘Sir, if you gave me money for free and it landed in my pocket, do you have control over it?’ He said no. I said ‘you said we are going to pay 3% and you are telling us we shouldn’t do as we choose? You built all the large dams you want to build in Europe and America and now, you don’t want us to build in Nigeria, do you think we don’t know what we are doing by advising our government? I am willing to be fired if my advice is wrong so please, if you don’t want us to build the dam, take your money and go. We will build our dam.’
The minister tried to calm me down but I told him I was willing to lose my job; I just couldn’t take anymore from those people.
General Muhammadu Buhari who was then in charge of PTF also believed in me. When I told him the dam would serve Abuja, he said: ‘Abuja? And they are joking with it? Doctor, how much do you want for this dam?’ I told him I’d need N9.5 billion, he said okay, go and do the costing and bring me the bill, everything…but I will not entertain any variation oo. I will fund it from PTF.’ Unfortunately, before we finished, he fell out with Obasanjo and left PTF. He told me to do whatever I had to do to see the dam built because it’s good for Abuja. I really respected him for that type of response to a need I knew the nation had. Again, the WB went to Obasanjo and wanted to discourage this project. Trust Obasanjo, he called the ministry and said: ‘What is this all about?’ When they told him, he said: ‘Oh, is that the situation?’ then he called a meeting of both WB and the ministry. ‘WB, what is your opposition to the project?’ they told him. ‘Ministry, why?’ they told him; he said ‘Ok, we will decide,’ and when the WB people left, he said to us: “Go build your dam joo.’
Gurara dam is one of the best things to happen to Abuja because for the next 25 years, the city will have water. My only fear is that they need a parallel pipe should anything happen to that one pipe that brings the water here. There is also Usuma Dam in Bwari, Abuja.
What is the way forward?
Reform the Civil Service: Please get the quality that used to be in the civil service. As a civil servant, know your onions when you are on a job. When they send you for training, bring a report, absorb what you are trained to do, it’s part of how we can get back on the right track. There are many brains there who can help you so please, don’t be selfish, do your training. Like Obasanjo said, if you have not been trained in the last five years, you are obsolete. Knowledge is moving too fast, go for training and don’t just go because you want to go, there is always a problem to solve. Go and improve yourself so that you can better help Nigeria.
Civil servants are their own worst enemies. If you give people their due, promote them as and when due, send them for training, if you are kind to them, you are their boss alright but be kind to your underlings, they will perform the best but when they are being sidestepped for promotion, you don’t give them their due, you are cruel to them, they lose interest in the job and can’t perform.
Initially, the European engineers looked down on Nigerian engineers but we had to put them in their place. I remember a time they recommended a dam design for government and I asked the leader how many dams in the world were built like the one he recommended and he said so many in Europe and I said: ‘Can you name them?’ He mentioned about three, I asked for the locations and he mentioned the countries. I said: ‘Good! Do you know International Committee on Large Dams, ICOLD? He said ‘yeah, I am a member.’ I said ‘good, I am a member, Engr. Umolu, (of Dantech, my friend) is a member, so we belong to the same family. I said ‘do you know ICOLD publishes the statistics of all dams in the world, especially in Europe? He said yes. I said let’s go to the first one you mentioned. We did and all of them were 3 metres high and I said how high is Jibiya Dam, he said 20m, I said ‘why are you using Nigeria for experiment?
‘In other words, you don’t have any data or information to make that proposal the way you made it. He started sweating. I said ‘do you authorise the cutting of wood inside the bowl of the dam? He said yes; ‘and you recommended the vinyl to be on the face of the dam because it is mainly sand in Jibiya, Katsina State?’ He said yes, I said ‘when you cut these trees, they have jagged edges, he said yes, I said some of them come to the surface of the dam and they can puncture it and once it is punctured, the dam is gone; he said yes and I said ‘so why did you create it? Did you study the culture of Nigeria before designing this dam for that location?’ He said yes and I asked: ‘Why didn’t you give them good suggestion? He said he did, I told him the best is all these vinyl in front and then blanket in the back because during harmattan, the people will come and put their feet on the vinyl and cut it for their shoes and cut enough of the blanket to cover themselves, that’s more important to them. In the end, he knelt down and said: “Sir, what do you want?’ I said N50m off the cost of the Jibiya Dam and $200m off, Nigerian government will not pay.’ He said: ‘Deal! Bring it, let me sign.’ So that was how we ended that.
Finally, it is not nice not to be humble, it’s not nice to be wicked or unkind; they cost you dearly, so where will my fellow Nigerians classify themselves among these? Let us be honest with ourselves and with each other. This pandering to or going after money is evil, you are selling your soul to the devil and by the time you take the money, you no longer have any freedom. If it is integrity, is there integrity in your working? If it is something you are doing to contribute to Nigeria, you do it to the best of your ability and you will be surprised at how Nigeria will change and these people who are poor, who seem to have no godfathers, who are just looking up to God for whatever they can get or do, God is hearing their prayers. God is nobody’s debtor.
Nigeria is great: Nigeria is great as far as I am concerned. Yes, it has problems, it has cheats, there are political misgivings, there are religious and tribal issues, but we can overcome them. We brought those problems on ourselves and we can remove them from ourselves.
QUOTES: Honesty and integrity were palpable; you could almost touch, feel and see them unlike now.