A member of the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference, now a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji (Dr) Lema Jibrillu, in this interview with Oluwole Akinloye and Hassan Ibrahim, speaks on the wrangling within the ruling party and other national issues. Excerpts:
Politically, not much is being heard from you these days, have you quit politics?
Yes and no. I keep abreast of all the ongoing. It is only that I don’t participate fully as such but I’m a loyal member of the PDP. Maybe, I’m too old for them to take me into account on anything but I still remain loyal. I am a democrat, I go with the majority.
Two Saturdays ago, in Abuja, there was the convention of the party during which some of the party members left the venue of the convention and held another convention somewhere else. Where does that lead the party to?
You know the dictum which says, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. This is exactly what the PDP is going through. They should ignore the so-called break away because it is really gross indiscipline, both to the President and the party’s National Chairman, They shouldn’t have acted the way they did. If they have any grievances, there are mechanisms within the PDP to solve them.
It’s gross indiscipline for them to do what they did. It’s not in their own interest in the long term. I have heard also the party threatening to recall members who defected or who are going to the New PDP. That is totally uncalled for. This thing is politics; it will be all over in three to five months time. If I were the National Chairman or the President, I will just ignore them. I know what they did was indiscipline, the highest possible , but they should be ignored.
On their own, they can never make it, the New PDP will never make it. Of course, it will weaken the PDP in so many respects, there is no doubt about it. But it will be overcome with time because there is no alternative in the APC and APC’s problems will soon start to surface also. We feel that PDP is much better than the APC in all respects, because you can never rely on APC, they have broken so many promises, even before they were formed, especially the ACN. Look at what they did to Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
He was their candidate in 2011 and they didn’t even vote for him at all. They went ahead and voted for PDP because in ACN states, PDP scored 72 per cent. Where is the loyalty? They took Ribadu high and low and then dumped him. So I wouldn’t even think of APC at all because nobody will trust them because of the way they treated Ribadu and so many others like that. So, really, PDP is still the mainstay of the political strength of this country, no matter this temporary dislocation.
PDP as a party has ruled the country for over 14 years now at the national level and there is not much difference in terms of the development of the country, what do you have to say about that?
No, you said so, I wouldn’t say that at all. Progress has been made, there is no doubt about it. We have hiccups here and there, and there is no one country in the world where you don’t have these hiccups, politically, economically. Don’t tell me now the country is in total disarray, In Europe, the only healthy country economically is Germany. All the rest have suffered the convulsion of the economic system including the USA, including Japan.
Only China is really going the way it ought to be with growth rate of still over seven per cent.
Looking at the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan in the last two years, are you satisfied with his performance?
I don’t matter in the scheme of things, you better go and ask people who matter. Personally, it doesn’t affect me one way or the other at all. I’m a businessman and you know business is done in so many respects. But that’s not the making of Jonathan.
It’s the economic climate of the whole nation, it is not brought about by government policies or budget, I think it is international in all respects. Look at unemployment now in Greece and Spain, cumulatively, it is 50 per cent in Nigeria. So we are at with Spain or with Portugal or with Greece since cumulatively, also, unemployment is in the region of 50 per cent. It’s a worldwide phenomenon and has nothing to do with just Nigeria only. There is not one country that is not affected, possibly except a few countries in the Middle East which are dependent 100 per cent on oil, like Saudi Arabia, like Kuwait, like UAE.
Boko Haram has been a major problem for the country since 2009, they are killing fellow human beings. They say they don’t want western education; they want to islamise the country. Is there any sense in human beings killing fellow human beings in the name of religion?
Not at all, that’s my answer.
The Federal Government has declared a state of emergency on Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states because of the activities of Boko Haram, yet they are killing, what do you think should be the way out?
Look, I am a small fry in the scheme of things. If the Federal Government couldn’t solve the problem, what has a simple farmer like myself got to offer? Absolutely nothing, it’s an unfortunate security challenge, everybody agrees on that and I think the government is doing all they can to try to contain the situation. We just pray that peace will be restored in all those states you mentioned. May Allah help us all, it’s most unfortunate, but I can assure you that Allah’s willing, it will be a question of time, it will soon stop.
There is the controversy over which part of the country should produce the President in 2015. The North is insisting that the Presidency must come back to it, whereas the South-South is saying second term is a must for President Goodluck Jonathan, which side do you belong to?
Neither. I am a nationalist to the core, I don’t believe in all these North and South dichotomy at all. Going by my record at the Constitutional Conference, I never supported this zoning, I never supported all these so-called six geo-political zones. We should be Nigerians and the best president should emerge from whichever side of the country. In fact, this is going to create problems for us. Creating states and local governments, that is what is dividing this nation. In my own opinion, we should go back to the three regions that we used to have, we should abolish the states and all the additional local governments created because they are bringing more division to us than anything you can imagine.
With what you have said now, the call for national Conference is a recurring decimal in the polity, do you agree with that?
Not at all, there is no need for any national conference whatsoever. We have a National Assembly in place, we have the House of Representatives, we have Senate and they are representatives of the people, so whatever they say should suffice. All those people calling for a national conference, they are just totally misplaced as if they don’t know the constitution of this country.
As the country moves towards 2015,what advice do you have for the Federal Government, INEC, the political parties and the people of Nigeria so that at the end of the day, we can get it right?
We can get it right only with experience. Parties have been formed and they are working according to the manifestoes and constitutions of their respective parties. The Federal Government has nothing to do with it, we are talking of the country as a whole. It is INEC that conducts elections and I believe in INEC. The only thing that I can add is the abolition of state INECs because they are really a nuisance. INEC, at the national level, should be allowed to conduct elections at all levels because they are more independent than the ones created by state governors.
You are among those who wanted the North to be industrialized….
Yes, very much so
Unfortunately, things went wrong with time, what is your take on this?
My take is the economic situation. I have just told you that it has affected all the nations of the world, no nation has escaped it. There is low productivity throughout the world.
Most of the industrialised countries now, the growth is about one per cent. The maximum is one to two per cent. Only China has 7.4, India has 6.6 and Nigeria, in theory, they say we are also seven per cent. In reality, we can’t be an island unto ourselves. It affects all nations of the world. So naturally in Nigeria, it is the same. On top of that, you see the purchasing power in Nigeria has gone down so drastically. So even if you produce, there is no market. The little market we have, we don’t produce enough, we rely on importation of 80 per cent of all our requirements in this country except for staple things like yam.
Even rice, we still import, so there is no question about the fact, that we are not producing enough. I was telling people the other day, if you spend one naira today, 80 kobo of it goes abroad. So there is potential growth for the industrial and manufacturing sector, but we are not seizing that.
You see the banks, they don’t lend more than one year. Even the one year now, it is very difficult to find.
You cannot create a viable economy or industry or manufacturing based on one year bank loan. In industrialised countries, they are giving loans for 10, 15, 20 years. Then you can plan well ahead but here, they rather give loan to traders that will do rapid turnover, of buying and selling. You can never build an economy based on buying and selling.
You mentioned that Nigeria has grown by 7 percent, as claimed by the IMF and the World Bank the other time, is the growth not academic?
It is academic, in theory, it is 7.4 per cent but in reality, you and I know..
You say you are a nationalist…
Absolutely, to the core
But being a Northerner, are you not worried that the North, as many have observed, is no longer the united and cohesive entity that it used to be?
I am very worried, that is why I called for the abolition of states and even the additional local governments they created. Let’s go back to the three regions that we had, and to all the local governments before all these mushroom local governments, we have 774 today. Right now, in the world, there are only about 20 out of 213 countries that have states.
All the rest are local governments including Britain that brought us up. They have no states; they have only local governments. That’s the fulcrum, that’s the focus of growth, where the people are. Even for agriculture, do you find agriculture in the city of Lagos or in Abuja or Kano? No, it’s in the local government areas.
So we should concentrate on local governments. I have heard all these rubbish that local governments should not be given independence, the constitution is quite clear on that. I had the privilege of being a member of the constitutional conference in 1994 and 1995 and we made it clear on the three tiers of government and their jobs were clearly spelt out in the constitution. No constitutional amendment has abolished that understanding.
The states are just a glorified area of stealing by governors. I know local government chairmen are also accused similarly, but at local level, you can contain the situation because each local government is made up of 10 to 13 wards and everybody knows everybody in that area. So it is up to the people to elect only credible candidates. You can go round any local government in a day except two in Adamawa and Sokoto. But all the rest, even in Lagos, you can go twice except for the traffic jam.
So you are saying that the multiplicity of states and local governments is the cause of disunity in the North..
It is not only in the North, it is in the whole country
Then how best can we have unity across the country?
By going back to the three regions which we used to have, the local governments that we used to have.
This is the third month that university students are at home over the strike by their lecturers. No agreement has been reached between the Federal Government and ASUU, what do you suggest as a way out?
Well quite frankly, I have been kept abreast on this. I have been reading in the newspapers of the goings on. Yesterday, the Federal Government was saying if they have to accede to all the requests of ASUU, it will break down the budget completely. I don’t believe in that, but ASUU also has to be reasonable.
They are just one aspect of the economy, they have been given adequate budget in the overall scheme of things and they have to be satisfied. I agree with them, if government broke any agreement, then government is to blame. But from my understanding, even two weeks ago, the Federal Government said it pumped over N230 billion to the universities, I don’t know what else they want.
They have to think about other people, how they are living from hand to mouth, and how they themselves, lecturers, are getting N200,000 a month and all that. There are people in this country who don’t even get N100 a day. So they have to understand the situation of the country, they have to sacrifice also. I mean all these students; they are also children of Nigerians. Nobody wants to see them fail, there is no doubt about that. But they have to readjust in the light of the present circumstances.
At independence and shortly after independence, the North, the West and the East were developing almost at the same pace, but these days, you hear that North is backward. At what point did the North get it wrong?
No, the North has always been backward. Contrary to what you are saying, we were never developing at the same pace at all. The South was already ahead since the coming of the Europeans into the country. They were based in the South. The North has always been at a disadvantage because of western education, basically. So it’s not correct, the South is advancing more than the North in the education area, in commercial area, since time immemorial.
What can the North do to catch up with the South?
It’s a very difficult question, because in the South, they are not going to fold their arms and stay on a spot. What the North should do is to progressively redouble their efforts. The South has gone far and there is nothing anybody can do about it. I’m not saying we in the North should fold their arms, not at all. They should re-energise themselves.
I told you before, there is potential in this country because we are still importing 80 per cent of what we need. So the area of manufacturing industry is still there, the banks are very, very negative, they are very conservative, they are lending on short term basis and as I said earlier, you cannot develop the economy on short term basis at all. Banks have to give loans on long term basis so that the North can develop.
It’s said that one of the problems the North is having is that allocations to states as well as local governments are being shared by political leaders in the North?
No, this stealing is nationwide, it’s national. Look at what is happening in the oil producing states, they are getting 13 per cent derivation. As I said earlier, I was a member of the constitutional conference. Some of those who were governors in the South-South, they know me very well. I argued vehemently against giving that money to governments, they should go to special accounts.
We know there is the degradation of environment due to oil pollution, we have every sympathy for that and that’s why that 13 per cent derivation was created. But somehow, along the line, the state governments were claiming that money. Now you have NDDC on top of that and the state governments in the South were stealing all the money.
There is no real help to where the oil is being produced. With all the pollution in the rivers, in the tributaries, all the provision for agriculture and for fisheries is all gone. The people in the South-South should sit together and demand that 13 per cent derivation goes to where the oil is derived, where the pollution takes place, not to go into the coffers of some governments and then they steal all the money.
Despite advancement in age, you still look very good, what is the secret?
I thank Allah in all respects, especially for giving me good health. I maintain good health, even now after this interview, I am going to play golf. I play rounds of golf, it keeps me going, so thanks be to Allah, I thank God in all manifestations. I am very fulfilled.
If you look at your journey of life, any regrets?
Not at all, my only regret is to see the crumbling of Nigerian economy when it ought not to be. It’s very sad. Allah provides this country with all what it takes, in terms of human resources, in terms of natural resources that can make any country great and successful.
We have everything, we have crude oil, we have mineral resources, we have agriculture, we have the land and yet people are living in poverty. It is very sad and there is no need for that at all. May be, it’s lack of planning but basically, it is corruption that is killing this country, we have to tell the truth.
So how do we tackle this problem of corruption?
Look at Ribadu, when he was Chairman of EFCC, he had dossiers on 33 governors and he was ready to prosecute them, but the government frustrated him. He went into politics and the ACN frustrated him. So, there is no hope for this country unless you allow people like Ribadu to really work.
Allow the law to take its course, then we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But it is really very sad. Somebody who was out and had really started working very hard and he has all the facts and figures. Even the other day, one of these recalcitrant governors that have created the so called New PDP, they are sometimes appealing to government not to send EFCC after them because they know they are guilty.