There are corrupt people in APC occupying government offices —Dan Suleiman
Air Commodore Dan Suleiman is one the pioneer officers of the Nigerian Air Force has been active in public life. As a Federal Commissioner for Special Duties, the retired former member of Supreme Military Council coordinated the formation of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He was first military governor of Plateau State upon its creation in 1976. He was later chairman of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) abroad, a group that worked for enthronement of democracy. Upon the advent of democracy, Suleiman was appointed Ambassador to the Russian Federation. The chairman of vocal Middle Belt Forum spoke with Senior Deputy Editor, SANYA ADEJOKUN on raging national issues including secession, restructuring, good governance, among others.
YOU played a key role in the Civil War and subsequently in government after the war. Can you tell us more?
Under Yakubu Gowon, I was a Federal Commissioner for Special Duties and I was in charge of ECOWAS formation. I went round inviting all the Heads of State of the 16 member-states to the first conference in 1975 and I was also involved in campaigning for the headquarters to be domiciled in Nigeria. And when Gowon was removed, it means I was overthrown too. Then General Murtala Muhammed decided to reappoint me and then gave me the Ministry of Health. And I was a member of Supreme Military Council (SMC). When Murtala was assassinated, Olusegun Obasanjo took over and I continued to be in the Ministry of Health until January 1976 when Obasanjo redeployed me now as Military Governor of newly formed Plateau State.
Plateau State then consisted of the present Plateau and Nasarawa states. And when transition to civilian government commenced in 1978, I was redeployed back to the Air Force and I established Air Force Training Command in Kaduna as Air Officer Commanding (AOC). I was there until the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari was inaugurated. By virtue of being AOC, I was a member of Supreme Military Council and in that capacity, we monitored and marshaled the handing over of power from military to civilian. And after coming to power, Shagari decided to throw us out and so we were retired in 1980.
And after retirement and being still a young man, you went into the corporate world?
I was appointed chairman of Allied Bank by General Muhammadu Buhari and later chairman of North South Bank, which was established as a private bank along with others generally known as second generation banks. And then the bank got into trouble with government, because I was also the chairman of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) abroad. They said we were financing the opposition and they thought they had to bring the bank down.
Why are some of these stories not being told?
They have been told. It is just that my book that was published has not been well marketed. The book is entitled “Pilot of Justice” and it contain my life story from childhood, all the things I did in the military. When I joined the Air Force in 1962, it was just four of us. Out of the four, I am the only one surviving. We were the nucleus of the Airforce. Whatever you have in the Airforce today, we laid the foundation.
Don’t you think the military is responsible for the current agitations for secession and restructuring across the country by introducing unitary system of government and failing to reintroduce proper federation when handing over in 1979?
The 1979 Constitution was not crafted by the military. It was crafted by the Constituent Assembly, an assemblage of civilians representing various segments of the country.
Were they not given a no-go area?
There were no-go areas, such as indivisibility of the country, because we fought the civil war to keep Nigeria one. That was the only one that I can remember.
50 years ago, Nigerians fought a civil war to keep Nigeria one. Why is it that today, agitations for a break-up and complaints about marginalisation from various ethnic groups still pervade the atmosphere?
In a way, I will agree that the military did encourage this by creating too many states and local governments and what it means is that if we continue in that direction, every village will be either a state or a local government.
Initially, state creation was a strategy to defeat Biafra. It was done to narrow down their areas of influence. And those areas that were agitating against Igbo domination, that is, the South-South, were given their freedom. In a way, it helped to remove the sail from the secessionists. The Federal Government was able to station its troops in Rivers and other places and that tended to bring the war to an end early. So, it was a strategic move. At first, it was good because state creation brought accelerated development to the country. Areas that were not state capitals now became state capitals and things are developed and that is why there are more agitations because every time you create a new state, the capital is given a facelift.
But the agitation that we are having today is due to bad governance at all levels. People have become too parochial. Anybody who comes to power today, whether at the federal or state level, tends to patronise only his own people. Others who are not patronised now become alienated. And that is why agitations are becoming more strident.
The problem also is historical, especially in the North. When the British came, they decided to introduce the system of indirect rule and superimposed one group over all the minority groups and that has been the cause of agitations of minorities in the North. Those minorities formed what is called the Middle Belt Forum (MBF). Now unfortunately, the colonialists left a government that was not balanced. It was lopsided. The North was the largest unit dominated by the Hausa/Fulani who think that they have the right over everybody in Nigeria because they have the largest population. So, for every election they contested, the North always won and North, as far as they are concerned, was them. That mentality continues till date.
When I joined NADECO in those days, it was on the basis of teaming up with all the progressives in Nigeria in order to remove this imbalance so that everybody will have equitable participation. That was what brought about the election of late Chief MKO Abiola on June 12, 1993. It was because the Middle Belt teamed up with the South-West, South-East and South-South and produced a candidate from the South-West to become the President. But you see the Hausa/Fulani who felt that Nigeria belongs to them annulled that election unfortunately and that now brought about more agitation from the South and especially from the South West. Some of us in the Middle Belt were in alignment with them and that was why I was involved with NADECO to the extent that I became the chairman of NADECO abroad. This is the historical background.
Seeking a solution is what has now brought Nigeria on its toes. Every group, no matter how small, wants to have its own sense of belonging. The answer is for us to sit down and find out how best we can produce a formula that will help us live together as one nation; that will take care of everybody’s fears and these fears are common: fear of marginalisaation. Right now, once you are at the centre, only your own people benefit and everybody else suffers. That kind of thing should be discouraged. And I think this is the restructuring that people are crying about and not necessary more states or more local governments. If we are able to have good governance, people who have got the interest of Nigeria at heart, who will govern the country well and make sure there is equity, justice and fair play then the agitations will reduce.
The Middle Belt, for instance, feels that the 2014 Confab seems to have taken care of most of these fears of all the groups. And if truly that document has taken care of all the fears that is creating agitations today, then it should be taken to the National Assembly by the executive and get it enacted into a law so that there will be some elements of peace. People who feel that they are marginalised like the South-East who are saying that they have less number of states has been taken care of in that document. Even my Middle Belt group claims that the 2014 document has taken care of their agitations. So, it will take care of our fears, take care of the fears of the South-East and South-South. Let them present it and let us see how we can govern ourselves.
Do you then believe that good governance will resolve the agitations without restructuring the country?
I think both are necessary. If you restructure the country and those in government are not sincere and honest and just, there will still be agitations. Restructuring is still important. The question to ask further is: what is restructuring? In our circumstance, the Federal Government is too big and power should devolve from the centre down to regional governments in some cases and then to state governments and down to local governments. Now that National Assembly is reviewing this constitution, let’s see what they will come out it. Let’s hope they will take most of the views into consideration not only the Confab’s but also of the agitators. They should invite all the South-South, South-East and the Middle Belt and listen to their views so that these fears can be taken care of in the new constitution that will emerge.
Are you then suggesting that National Assembly should aggregate opinions and agitations of Nigerians in the process of amending the constitution?
If they only take care of their own thoughts, there will be more agitations because they are part of the problems. When I talk of good governance, the National Assembly is part of the problem. People are saying that the governors, the National Assembly right now are not performing to expectation. Executive is not performing to expectation and so is judiciary. None of them is satisfying the common man fully. All the aspects should be looked at because all the three arms of government need to provide justice, fair play, equity and wellbeing. If those things are taken care of in the constitution, making sure that common man has justice and his needs are cared for, there will be less agitation.
All Progressives Congress (APC) recently set up a committee to look into look at restructuring. Do you think there is need for it?
They say the voice of the people is the voice of God. If the entire nation is talking about restructuring because even from the North-West, there are voices in support of the agitation- then they have to look at it. They have to look at it to find out what is the correct definition. One thing is that creation of more states may not be the answer because if you create more states that are not viable, that is not the restructuring that we are talking about. It is devolution of powers. Let the nation be decentralised. Everybody should not be running to the centre for salaries and so on. It means devolution of powers and devolution of resources. The state governments should be made to be viable so that they can take care of themselves. They should keep the revenues they generate so that only a proportion will go to the centre. The centre should be lean and take up responsibilities like defence, security, foreign affairs, customs and exercise and things like that.
How would you rate our level of development since 1999? Would you blame ordinary citizens or political leaders for the slow pace of development?
I think the problem is with people who find themselves in government. They have not discharged their responsibilities to the best of their abilities to fulfill the mandates given to them. Otherwise, their attention has been more towards personal aggrandizement than service to the people. When you hear of billions being stolen by individuals, you know that it is uncalled for. When people cannot feed, send their children to school, when there are no proper health facilities and individuals are acquiring billions, what is it for? It is a very sad attitude. We have also been in government and in our days, this kind of greed was not there. I remember the chairman of Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), Ovie Whisky, who was accused of collecting N1 million bribe and he said he would collapse if he saw that amount of money. It is true because as I am talking to you, if I see N1 billion, I will collapse. But nowadays, they flaunt it as if it is nothing.
So, how can Nigerians choose the right leaders?
I am sad because the atmosphere in Nigeria is now completely corrupted. Even the followership is worse. If you serve the Federal Government and travel home, people will be looking to see how big your suitcase is, how big your car is, how big your house is in the village. That is what concerns them. Not what have you brought as development to the people. And if you do not come with fat briefcases or a big car, they will say you are a useless man. They will abuse you to your face. They will say you have not done anything for yourself. And the demand? They will flood your house, saying you must take care of all our responsibilities, that we put you there.
So, there is extra pressure on the individual to make extra money. But this cry for restructuring is such that we should consider the control mechanism which will make legislators and those in government to be constantly aware of the need to provide service rather than accumulate wealth for themselves. If we can find an answer to that, I think it will help. People should go to the centre to offer service to the majority and not to offer service to themselves.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geofrey Onyeama, said on a television programme that Nigerians need to build a moral compass for themselves and it struck me. It is a compass within you that tells you that this is wrong or right. You don’t need anybody to tell you. You don’t need to be monitored or directed. Your moral compass should tell you whether you are wrong or right. Your moral compass will tell you. I don’t know how we are going to build that moral compass. But I feel that every Nigerian should feel a sense of responsibility, a sense of duty to make Nigeria work.
Will it be appropriate for the constitution to stipulate the number of days that a political office holder can be away on health ground before being removed from office?
Before you run for an office, they carry out a security check on you. So, what should be done is that every candidate for election should go through a medical check to be sure he is a fit and proper before they run for office. Look at the two presidents who have had health issues, none of them acquired their ailments in the office. They had been sick before being elected. And having been sick already, the office overwhelmed them and that is why they are finding it difficult to cope.
Do you want to assess how the current administration has performed after two years in office?
I am sure that you can assess them better than me. But seriously, did they come on board with a prepared programme? If they had, have they rolled them out to the Nigerians so that we can assess them? They promised to tackle the problems of security and corruption. On security, you can score them ‘very good’ because at that time, Boko Haram was the most serious security issue with us. I am from the North-East and I know that in Adamawa State, we no longer grapple with the problem of Boko Haram. But if we consider other issues like kidnapping, armed robbery and Fulani herdsmen menace, maybe I will reduce the score. If these are not brought under control, Nigeria may be declared a security zone and people will not come to invest. Investors will be afraid.
Again on corruption, it appears on the surface that they are only targeting opponents. That is the way it appears. All the top people that have been arrested so far are PDP people and everybody knows that there are also corrupt people in APC occupying government offices. If there is sincerity in tackling corruption globally, then we will know that there is seriousness. There again, I will give them 50 per cent for effort and not for performance.