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Nigeria in problem because leaders put self-interest first —Balarabe Musa

Former governor of Old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, speaks with AYODELE ADESANMI, on the state of the nation.

 

NIGERIA celebrated its 56th independence anniversary last month. Do you think the country has reached the expected position in the comity of nations and if not, where are we now?

Though we are a federation, we have not even started in terms of nationhood, national independence and economic stability. What we can say is that we are at the beginning of the beginning and unfortunately, this is in spite of so many advantages that the country possesses. I can say that instead of us being one of the largest, most powerful and prosperous countries in the world today, we are at the bottom of national development. The root of this is that we are bogged down by social, economic and political system that is backward and primitive, based on self-interest first, public interest second. The system has created a political leadership that is also based on self-interest first, public interest second. There is no way any country based on self-interest first and public interest second can progress.  Nigeria has to get out of this self-interest toga, because it is well entrenched and a good example is the privatisation and sale of the country’s common wealth. This has led us to have a vulnerable government with a private enterprise.

Our history has shown that this is wrong and that it can only take us nowhere, because all the developments that we have registered, which have lasted, are from 1951 when party politics and healthy competition started. All the leading developmental projects in the country today were created when Nigeria became Nigeria in 1914 or 1960. The ones that are remaining, even in a kind of primary stage, are the ones established based on public interest first and private interest second. Look at the railway system that has been undermined and so many other things.

 

Does that mean you are against the sale of national assets being proposed in some quarters?

That is what I am talking about; we have now abandoned a lot of the great developmental ideals and projects through privatisation and the sale of national assets, which will reduce governance in Nigeria to irrelevance.

In the beginning, we started on the basis of public interest first and self-interest second and because of that, we did well until 1966 when the army came and reversed the progress. Before 1966, there wasn’t corruption, stealing and criminal waste of resources.

Everybody then knew that you could not steal a kobo of public funds and get away with it; that created a credible leadership. For example, nobody associated the leadership of Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, Sardauna (Ahmadu Bello) and even the opposition leader in the North, Aminu Kano, with the stealing of public funds simply because until the army came, it was public interest first and self-interest second. We didn’t have this method of corruption, stealing and criminal waste of resources.

 

But do you think the system of government we were practising before 1966 would still be relevant now? This question becomes imperative following the call for restructuring and return to regionalism in some quarters.

We were practising regionalism then and, in fact, I am now calling for the return of the system that we had before 1966.  I am calling for the return of the regions we had before the army came. Each of the four regions was vibrant and could take care of itself without allocation from the Federal Government. I am calling for a return to the regional system with six regions. The central government will allocate funds that are available to the regions. But I don’t think it will be necessary to have more than six regions, otherwise they will not be vibrant. The allocations should go to the regions as the unifying factor and each region will be made to create as many states and local governments within it. The resources collected at the centre should be allocated at most 35 per cent to the centre and 65 per cent to the unifying regions; unlike the present arrangement where the Federal Government gets 52 per cent. This should be reversed in favour of the regions, as it will make the regions viable. But there should be one proviso that the centre must be strong enough to unite the country. The centre must be given the responsibility for ensuring unity and also equal economic development of the country; the centre must be given sufficient power to do that. We don’t want a system where the centre will be weak and the regions will be strong. We want the centre to be relatively strong and the regions viable.

 

So you are in support of restructuring?

Yes, I am in support of restructuring but the unfortunate thing in Nigeria is that every term is misused and given a negative impression. For instance, some of these people who are talking of restructuring today are talking of return to ethnic sovereignty. This is primitive. How can we have ethnic sovereignty in a Nigeria where there are at least 400 ethnic groups? Each of them, of course, has to be sovereign.

Now, how can you unite the country with that situation? There must be justice for everybody, which will make ethnic sovereignty irrelevant.

 

Some of those clamouring for the restructuring of the country have maintained that the presidential system of government being practised is too expensive. Which other system will you suggest for the country that will not be as resources-consuming as the present system?

We have practised parliamentary system of government before and we are presently practising the presidential system of government. If we compare the two, I think the presidential system is preferable, because the people elect their leaders directly. The president, unlike the prime minister, is in a position to be decisive with issues. So, the presidential system is preferable, because that was our choice to get

the military off our back. We chose to take the American presidential system and did away with the parliamentary system for good reasons and the most important reason was that the presidential system is more capable of uniting the people and the leadership is decisive. The leadership has the direct support of the people, because the president is directly elected by the people, unlike the prime minister who is elected by his colleagues. So, the presidential system is more capable of uniting the people and the president is more capable of ensuring equal and progressive development of the country. But the key question is how to spot the right party. In Nigeria, we don’t bother going through what the party stands for and how relevant it is to us and how the party chooses its leadership. Our problem in Nigeria now is money power; particularly, stolen money is the deciding factor in politics and elections. That’s why we have this corrupt political leadership in every aspect.

 

Other advocates of restructuring have also stated that the 2014 National Conference convoked by former President Goodluck Jonathan addressed a lot of issues affecting the country and that the implementation of its recommendations would solve a lot of problems, what do you think?

It is good that Buhari dropped the recommendations of the National Conference, because it was useless and was meant to deceive Nigerians so that Jonathan could get his wish to win the election. That confab had no legitimacy at all. In the first place, it was Jonathan’s decision; remember that he was opposed to confab and those calling for it before. But towards the end of his adinistration, he prepared the agenda of the confab and the people who would participate in it. He guided the confab throughout and funded them so that they would do what was required and when the report came, he chose what he wanted out of the report. So, it was useless.

For a confab to be legitimate, it must arrive from the will of the people. It must be a confab of elected representatives of the people at every level, freely elected at every level without government’s guidance. So, we don’t want any implementation of this confab, because it’s useless. There may be one or two amendments that the government or the national assembly can do; let them do the amendments without making any reference to the conference, because any reference to the conference will undermine the morality of everything. If it is a good thing, just go ahead and amend the constitution and implement it straightaway without any reference to the conference.

However, we still need a legitimate national conference, whether you call it sovereign national conference or whatever. We still need it because it must be the will of the people freely deciding what they want for themselves. For instance, we have an issue that should be a subject for a sovereign national conference Nigerians need to decide who plays the leading role in the economy: is it the state or the private sector? This is an important issue for a national conference. But nobody is talking about it now. It is a fundamental issue.  What we are suffering now is the attempt to bring about the leading role of the private sector in the economy; that is what is directly responsible for our suffering. We need to decide it. Should we have a leading role of the state in the economy to ensure peace, equality, justice and development of the country or do we leave the leading role of the private sector to the survival of the fittest? We need to decide this fundamental issue, which is more important than the original arrangement; it is more important than even deciding between parliamentary system and presidential system. This is an issue that concerns the economy and the lives of the people. We need to decide that at a national conference. Talking about the need to have free, fair and transparent election capable of producing a government at every level with legitimacy, we need to decide that also at the right level.

 

You talked about corruption. Are you satisfied with the way the present government is fighting it?

This government talked about anti-corruption crusade, but when you look at it very well, there is nothing but public deceit. Corruption is growing and there is nothing they are doing decisively about it.

The worst part of it is that the most corrupt people are in this government. Corruption started in an organised form in a way that it disabled government. As I told you earlier, in the past, nobody could steal a kobo of government and get away with it. But today, if you are privileged to be president, governor, local government chairman or anybody appointed by them, you can steal any amount of money and get away with it.

 

Do you subscribe to the view that the 16-year reign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) destroyed this country and the description of the party as evil by APC loyalists?

To me, the APC has even turned out to be more evil than the PDP, because the PDP did not practise fascism. But this present administration is really fascist; look at how they dealt with this Islamic movement otherwise known as Shiite, killing people for no reason. Look at what is happening now in the Niger Delta, where so many people were killed. Nobody knows what is happening today. In 2015, the

Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) chose to side with the PDP for strategic reasons. Our reason then was that even though the PDP was incompetent, both in terms of Jonathan or the party, the APC was fascist. We knew the record of President Muhammadu Buhari when he was the military Head of State, how fascist he was and the fascist tendencies have now been proved. The fascist tendency of the present government is now quite clear. They only need a little excuse to go on fascism spree.

 

Were there specific things you expected President Buhari to do when he assumed the mantle of leadership that he has not done?

First of all, I expected him to be a little better. I didn’t expect him to be too much better, simply because his origin is not class-based and he has not been identified as a true member of the Kaduna Mafia, which has the same arrogance they inherited from the North and by indication, the whole of Nigeria by virtue of the political system created by Sardauna. I don’t think he was a clear and identified member of the Kaduna Mafia, so I thought he would, at least, be better. The PRP supported Buhari in 2003, 2007 and 2011. But we all said we supported him not because we regarded him as the one Nigeria needed, but as the least risk Nigerians could take in choosing a leader. We called it the least risk because of the deciding role of money in politics and elections. Because of that, you can’t identify a suitable leader in Nigeria but we can take risks. So, we took risks with Buhari because of the difficulty of identifying a leader in Nigeria. His record in 1984, in comparison to those who were contesting with him, was better– the Obasanjos and the like. Even now, we have seen the worst Obasanjo and we have seen the worst of Buhari and if we have to choose between the two, we will choose Buhari.

 

How will you describe the renewed militancy in the Niger Delta and especially the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers?

Basically, what they are saying is that the promise [former President Umaru] Yar’Adua made to them to secure amnesty is not being kept. They are asking government to keep that promise. I don’t think they are after separation. Even the Biafrans, I doubt they are separatists. I think they are opposing some political tendencies, in particular the tendencies to marginalise the Igbo, either because of the Civil War or any other reason. I don’t think there is any group in Nigeria that is really interested in the separation of Nigeria. All Nigerians are now aware that we are better off as one united country, taking advantage over our 100 years of experience. Nigerians are more interested in a united country. But

obviously, they see evidence of injustice and they are opposed to it.

So, if we have a president who is straightforward, honest and experienced, I think within a matter of three to six months, we can see the end of the avengers.

 

There have been different reactions over the recent raid on the houses of judicial officials, what is your take on the incident?

It’s justified, because the judges are as corrupt as the politicians and the other institutions. Every institution in Nigeria has been corrupted and there is need to clean it up. Don’t make exception of the judges; they are just as corrupt as all other institutions in the country and a cleanup is necessary. The only thing is that you have to do this on the basis of justice and fair play.

 

The problem of Fulani herdsmen has taken a dangerous dimension, what do you think the government and the people can do?

They are being used for a political purpose. I don’t know how the herdsmen turned into an institution of violence. We have been having problems with herdsmen everywhere, particularly in the North, but not to the extent of mass killings and getting away with them. People are asking whether this herdsmen’s problem is part and parcel of Boko Haram and whether Boko Haram is part and parcel of the war between the classes in this country. It is not just a question of herdsmen being violent. After all, herdsmen have always been in the South just as in the North, though not on a large number. Have they always been part of violent crimes? Why all of a sudden? For instance, in Akure, 10 years ago, were the herdsmen a problem? No. Why suddenly are they becoming violent? Let us find out exactly why they are now becoming violent.

Let me tell you this with authority and experience; my cattle are in a place close to an army barracks, which I can say is a military zone. Yet, some of them were stolen on two occasions and there was nothing we could do. And from my investigation and reports, I feel that this cattle rustling is part and parcel of a criminal upsurge. It may even have an international dimension. From what people are saying and from my assessment, cattle rustling is like the Boko Haram; it’s part of an international criminal organisation. Cattle rustling is now being undertaken to provide meat for soldiers fighting in Nigeria against Boko Haram and also in other countries where there are wars. This allegation becomes realistic because we have proof in some cases of Boko Haram, where helicopters are used to lift meat to somewhere and the meat is taken overseas. For instance, the cattle stolen in Nigeria allegedly find their ways to somewhere in Nigeria where they are slaughtered, refrigerated and sold in dollars in some foreign countries where there are wars, either by either Al-Shabab or some others. I am telling you this because people talk about it.