By CHIDI OBINECHE
Professor Ango Abdullahi, scion of the northern intelligentsia, and frontline trooper of the oligarchy is the spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF. He shot into national consciousness in the maelstrom of the “Ango must go” crisis of 1986, when a violent uprising in the nation’s ivory towers demanded his removal as the vice-chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, ABU.
He is a leader of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and by his own reckoning was one of the 10 people that drew up the constitution and “signed it into life”.
But his stay in the party is no longer rosy. He insists Jonathan has committed unpardonable sins against the North and has been up in arms against his regime.
He tells Sunday Sun in his Maidunya farms, Samaru, Zaria, that Jonathan’s leadership has cast a pall on Nigeria’s continued existence and shockingly insists that the North is willing and ready for the long pent up break-up of Nigeria. “Keep your oil, we’ll keep our land”, he says reassuringly.
And for probable re-emphasis, he declares that even in Jonathan’s apparent PDP safe haven, the North will challenge him in the primaries.
He stokes further embers as he declares the south a parasite on the North between 1914 and 1960, proclaiming in the same breadth that oil, which is the pride of the South is indeed a national resource, contrary to their belief. “It belongs to Nigeria, it’s a national resource”, he affirms with finality.
Abdullahi leaves pristine oil politics to descend on former heads of state, accusing them of national assets stripping.
Singling out Gen. Ibrahim Babangida,( IBB) Retd, he puts the blame of Nigeria’s economic woes at his doorstep. Not even the presidential system of government in place today is spared. He describes it as “reckless and unaccountable”. His age (at 75) belies his nimble spirit, fecund brain and sprightly gait. He takes darts at a legion more sundry national issues, unrestrainedly and in combat style.
What indeed is wrong with Nigeria?
Honestly if you look at our history, because for us to be able to assess our situation now, I think it’s only appropriate to look back and see where we came from, what were the challenges of those yesteryears, and how they have contributed, if they did, to the position in which the country is today. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that in 1960 when this country gained its independence from Britain, there were high hopes. I remember I was a student then at the University College Ibadan. I was hopeful that a new nation had been born, and our fathers then, the political leaders in the first republic kept telling us that we were the future of the country, because ‘you are our youths and we are looking forward to as many of you as possible coming out of the university to come and start taking responsibilities in the nation’. It was only a college at the time. And of course, I think they did very well as far as I am concerned. They worked together, irrespective of their regional differences, ethnic diversities, cultural and historical differences, and so on. They were able to put heads together and take the country out of colonial administration. Even after independence, for the first few years I think, despite the challenges that were already rearing their heads, they were able to stay together, kept the country quiet, until we had our first military interruption of civilian administration.
Are you saying that it was at that point that the rain began to beat Nigeria?
I think so. That has always been my position. The rain began to beat Nigeria since that time, and things have never been the same again. You remember that after the first military intervention, there was a second one, and eventually there was so much misunderstanding or disagreement that led the country to a three-year civil war. No country goes through a civil war and comes out the way it was before. So, Nigeria’s crisis, despite everything else, I will say started from the first military interruption of civilian administration in this country, and from that point on, things have never been the same again.
So, who would you hold responsible for the problems plaguing the Nation?
You can only look at the surface when you are looking at military intervention like we saw in 1966. I was a mature man then. I was already in the service of the country, after graduating from the university. It was clear that there must have been a link between the political leaders at that time, and the young boys that picked up their guns and started shooting other political leaders in the country. No question about it, because if you look at it very critically, you cannot escape the suspicion, or even the accusation, that the boys that picked up their guns, shot some political leaders and removed the nation’s political leadership really had some political connections. And also you cannot escape the obvious fact that the boys were tribally inclined. This is the fact we have on ground, no matter how historians decide to write it, the facts remain very obvious.
In the coup broadcast, the political leaders were accused of corruption and nepotism. The historians based their works on these concrete evidences. What then fuelled your position that the historians lied?
They should be shooting the politicians of today. There was never corruption of this magnitude in this country as we have it now. In fact, if you look at the past, the first republic, you will see that there was no corruption because the leaders we had, Dr Azikiwe, Chief Awolowo, the Sardauna, Tafawa Balewa, and the rest of them, were not materially inclined. Corruption breeds materialism. Sardauna left no house, in Kaduna or Sokoto. Abubakar left no house in Bauchi or in Lagos and so on. So you can see that really, they were very honest, compared with what we have today. So, if the motivation to kill them was corruption, then, I think this is the time to kill most of Nigerian leaders today, because they are corrupt.
For you, that is the solution to our problems? Kill all the politicians?
No! No! No!. it is not the solution. What I am trying to correct is the position of the historians that you are referring to. I disagree completely that the killings were motivated by patriotic considerations. That’s not correct. The problem with Nigerian historians is that they write history according to some of their particular special interests. This is a clear case of bias in Nigerian history.
How do you think Nigeria can then get out of the woods? You have painted a gory picture of corruption, insecurity and other vices.
We will get out of the woods by peddling back. I pay glowing tribute to our pioneer leaders who actually looked after this country before, and soon after independence. They were determined, honest people, irrespective of whoever thought they had something different. But for the fact that they behaved the way they did, perhaps it would have been impossible for Nigeria to become independent. The disagreements among the regions and the politics at that time would have made it impossible for them to put their heads together. So, for us to get out of our current situation, we really have to find leaders that are similar to those we had in the first republic.
But some people, including political leaders have accused a particular ex-military leader of introducing corruption into the system, which has refused to abate…
The first military leader we had was Late Gen Ironsi. I cannot accuse Ironsi of corruption. He was there briefly, and even from his antecedents, it appears to me that he as an individual was a disciplined military officer. I wouldn’t accuse him of corruption, even for the brief period he reigned, the way we are looking at corruption today. What removed him was again politics, because the first military coup that brought him to power was seen as politically motivated. The second one that countered it, I will also say was politically motivated. So, after Ironsi was Gen Gowon(retd). Gowon, I will never accuse of corruption, then, now, and hopefully in the future. He led this country through a civil war and after he left government nine years later, he needed a house which he didn’t have. So, I cannot see Gowon as anything other than an honest, committed military officer, concerned with the problem of keeping Nigeria together. He succeeded as far as I am concerned.
Military politics and corruption started when he was thrown out of office. He was thrown out by Gen Murtala Mohammed. Mohammed was a very honest man, but then, he faced the problem of very ambitious officers, who worked with him. And for me, quite a lot of issues that started to rear their heads in terms of honest leadership and corruption-free leadership started about that time. But I wouldn’t say Mohammed’s administration was corrupt, even though he himself was eliminated from the system only a few months after he took office. He left behind, his work intact, under the leadership of Olusegun Obasanjo, T.Y Danjuma, Shehu Yar’adua and the rest of them.
I think they continued in the spirit and discipline. Murtala Mohammed had said at the beginning of his administration that he will handover to elected civilian administration in 1979. This was done. I also would not call that regime corrupt, as it was. They handed over to Shehu Shagari. But then, at the point of handing over to Shehu Shagari, one of the problems that had happened to Nigeria and still manifests as part of our problem is the change of system of government. They decreed presidential system of government. They didn’t even debate the merits and demerits of parliamentary system, and they decreed that Nigeria should move from parliamentary to presidential system. That was the beginning of political instability in the country, the enormous corruption that we are facing today, and of course all manner of things including the insecurity we are going through now.
Presidential system of government, as far as I am concerned, does not fit a developing country with little resources like Nigeria. It is a very expensive system as you can see today. If you analyse the cost of governance, everybody has agreed that this is a very expensive system of government. In addition, the system leaves the politicians free to do what they want without being accountable. This is different from parliamentary system. Nobody becomes a minister under parliamentary system of government until he has a base of election, and he is appointed as a minister by virtue of the prime minister being from his party. So, he is accountable ab initio to a constituency. The constituency is watching him, the prime minister is watching him, and so on. Under the presidential system of government, the president comes into office, and from that point it is free for all. It is free for all. His ministers are appointed by him, if you like, without loyalty to his party. And they don’t have to be accountable to anybody except him. So, as long as they can please him, then they are free to do what they wish. And this is what we are seeing today. We have ministers without accountability because their roots are not with their people. They are only with those who appointed them. So, you see, I believe that corruption has taken roots firmly under the presidential system of government. In fact, Babangida who came in as military head of state, also used this presidential system to acquire the powers of a president under democratic rule, but also keeping the monopoly of power as a military head of government. So, for me, a lot of the economic problems that beset this country from 1986 can be traced to most of the decisions that he took in 1986. The IMF connection, the World Bank, SAP, the devaluation of the Naira. In 1986, N1 was equivalent to $1.40cents. N1.20k was equivalent to £1 sterling. But today, after all that had happened, for a country to experience a situation where within 20 or 25 years its currency has been so decimated to the extent that N166 goes for one dollar is alarming. I have to get N280 to buy £1 sterling. You tell me how this country can really face the international monetary system, and for its economy to be competitive. You devalue your currency only when you are competitive in selling goods and services. Nigeria was selling nothing, except oil, and oil was only being bought in dollars. So what is the problem? There was a debate in the country that we should not devalue, we should not borrow from IMF or World Bank. This was the consensus of Nigerians. But of course, the military head of state decided otherwise. To me, really, this was the beginning of the economic crisis this country has fallen into. I don’t know when it will ever recover, looking at the way things are going. If you remember, we had a fairly long-winding transition programme, as to when the civilians would return. I think it took over 9 years before Babangida eventually left. After he left office, we had Abdulsalami for another year or so. So, we had almost 10 years of military governance under a socio-economic situation that continued to leave this country poorer than it had always been. If you look at the standard of living of the people, the social services, the school system, the health care services and so on, you will understand where we are coming from. I had my education, primary up to university level free. I had free health services. The country did all this without oil money. We had only groundnuts, cocoa, palm oil and cotton. These were sources of revenue of the country, but it was well managed, by the leaders of that time.
Do you think Nigeria is poor, given our oil? Nigeria is certainly not poor. What’s your view on this.
I agree with you. She is not poor. If you look at the 1999 constitution which really is a derivative of the 1979 constitution, chapter II of the constitution is very clear about how the economy of Nigeria should be managed to serve the needs of Nigerians. I was lucky to serve as the chairman of the committee that drafted chapter II in the 1987/88 Constitutional Conference. That is the soul of the Nigerian constitution. That is where the rights of Nigerians had been clearly stated. The expectations of government in terms of steering the well being of Nigerians are very clearly stated. Security, not in terms of physical security, but also in terms of the needs of Nigerians – daily needs and so on, were all stated in chapter II. But the critical point there, the pinnacle of that chapter is that the resources of Nigeria should be exploited, harnessed and used for the benefit of Nigerian citizens. What has happened is that even before Obasanjo arrived, that chapter had been totally ignored through programmes imposed on the country by the IMF and World Bank. The IMF and World Bank insist that government of any country should not be seen to be meddling in the economic management of the country. This is the real crisis that Nigeria has faced. Government has been pushed out of its basic responsibilities, to ensure that the resources of the country belong to Nigeria. Yes, we have oil, but where is the oil? Whose oil? Again, I participated in the political reforms conference of 2005 and we called in experts. I was in the economic committee with Prof Adedeji as the chairman. We called in experts on oil business, Nigerians, who are living outside the country, plus expatriates to give us a detailed analysis of our situation, the Nigerian situation in terms of the oil industry. The conclusion was frightening. That as at 2005, the assessments leaves Nigeria with only 18% of the total value of the oil business in the country. The remaining 82% is off shore. So, when we are quarrelling about oil resources and revenue, we are quarrelling over only 18%. The remaining 82% is completely outside our control; outside Nigeria. These are the things that will make you wonder. This is why some of these policies on privatization of whatever has continued to push government out of its responsibility, to make sure they are not the custodians of the resources of this country. The resources are there, but they are out of our control. By the time they did the devaluation of the currency, the privatization, our public assets were just being virtually sold to local commission agents as well as international bodies that came with their hard currencies against our devaluation and took our assets virtually for free. If you take our NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) for example, a hundred years of Nigerian investment had gone down the drain by the way it was sold. The same thing with NITEL (Nigeria Telecommunications Ltd). Just look at them. You will see that Nigeria’s labour and investments had just been carted away by a few individuals. Unfortunately some of these few individuals are the people who put us in the trouble we are, because they were at one point or the other leaders of this country.
Who are these leaders? Can you mention them?
I mean, I don’t need to. If I want to be fair, I want to be comprehensive with my list. When I talk about leaders, I mean leaders who have been at the helm of Affairs in government. You know them. I don’t need to spell them out. Those who have bought our assets, either as former heads of state, or as former ministers, or as former principal officers of various positions of responsibilities. They are the ones who acquired our assets. You only need to look at the list of companies, or who owns them. The recent sale of NEPA, who bought it? Former heads of state and so on.
I want to talk to you about the on-going National Conference. Some documents from some groups calling for secession from Nigeria are flying around. The Yoruba want Oduduwa republic, Niger Delta wants to go. The Igbo want Biafra. Why?
Nigeria was put together, not by me, not by you. It was put together by the British colonial masters. Of course, when they put Nigeria together, there was no consultation even with the local chiefs, the local chiefdoms. They carved out protectorates initially- the Lagos colony, the Southern protectorate and the Northern protectorate. And at some point Lugard decided that for administrative convenience and for effective exploitation of Nigeria’s resources, they needed to merge these protectorates together in 1914. That gave birth to Nigeria. Some people say it was God. I would rather say it was the British colonial masters that created Nigeria, maybe against the wish of the people who would not want to see this kind of arrangement. Having done so, they tried to organize the country from 1914 up to 1960 when they left us. And by the time they left us, they were able to convince us that it was going to be beneficial for the country to remain under certain constitutional mechanisms and arrangements. This is why they preferred; given the diversities of the country, its historical antecedents, a federal system of government that leaves a lot of authority and powers to sections of the country. That’s why we started with three regions – Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigeria, and Northern Nigeria in 1960. By 1963, the Midwest region was also created. Apart from the federal constitution, each region also had its own constitution. That again leaves a lot of powers devolved to these regions. That understanding we had experienced was that even the region themselves were not as homogenous as they should be.
Even before the British left, the minorities commission was set up to see in what ways the minorities’ fears could be allayed before independence, and after it. So, by the time we had our independence, and after 1963, when we became a republic, agitations had continued unabated; that the kind of Nigeria that people would want is not what we have, and they continued in as many ways as possible to urge for structural changes. These agitations led to a number of constitutional conferences. The first constitutional conference started in 1963, when we changed our constitution from a country with allegiance to a monarchy, and became a republic. That came with a constitution. A constitutional change took place, when Gen Gowon(retd) created 12 states out of the 4 regions at the time. When Murtala Mohammed came, he introduced a merger to the constitutional reforms by introducing a presidential system of government, moving away from parliamentary system. And in addition, he created more states. I think it was during his time that we had 19 states. This agitation for creation of states is a manifestation of our ethnic diversities. Ethnic groups wanted to be as independent as possible as active participants, in the affairs of the country. This led continuously to moves for more states creation. After this particular one, we had 36 states, plus the Federal Capital Territory. All the same, we are still experiencing dissatisfaction with this. Despite the agitation for creation of states in the 60s, people are now saying no, we’ve made a mistake by creating states out of the regions. And that’s why the west felt it was better for them to be in the old western region, or the structure of the old western region. That was the same thing in Igboland. Given the minority agitations, well before independence, one is not surprised that the Niger Delta area may not want to remain with the Eastern region of old, and may want to be on their own. More so now, because there are oil wells there. So they want to leave the Igbo out of it. So, fair enough, the place where so many questions seems to be hanging is the position of the North – the North had never agitated for the breakup of Nigeria. There was one time when there was Araba in 1966. It was when they suddenly saw what they considered to be a sectional disruption of government by military boys mainly of Igbo extraction. And of course there were reprisals that led to the killings of Igbos in their numbers here, and of course eventually it moved to the Eastern region, Aburi, the civil war, and the rest of all. So, Biafra has been on the cards for quite some time, and still on the cards of so many people. So, for us here in the North, we have tried like our parents did. Yes, Nigeria is very useful to all Nigerians, not to Northerners, not to westerners, not to Igbos alone; to everybody, including us that sell suya in some sections of the country. For us now, we have reached a point that, if other Nigerians feel that the current Nigerian state is untenable, is not sustainable, we will support its balkanization. We will support it. I am one of those who believe that, yes, if other Nigerians are saying that Nigeria is not good enough, is not worth it, we believe the same, and I think we should go ahead and balkanize it.
Will you attribute that to the current Islamist insurgency in some parts of the North, where Nigeria is dripping with blood. Is that perhaps part of the agitations by the North for a break-up of Nigeria?
Certainly not. The present insurgency is only ten years old. Boko Haram is only ten years old. It is much younger than OPC, much younger than MASSOB, much younger than Niger Delta militants. It is recent; very recent. When the OPC and MASSOB were talking about their own agenda, the issue of balkanizing Nigeria was not important. Why is it that because of the insurgency here in the North, some people are saying yes; because of the insurgency by Northerners, the Nigerian state is not tenable. This is absolute nonsense. It’s not an excuse. So, for me, they must find other excuses for Nigeria to feel untenable, unsustainable. Certainly not because of Boko Haram. There had been insurgencies similar to Boko Haram before. And steps were taken to mitigate and overcome them. There is something we suggested should be done two or three years ago. I have a document that we presented to the President from the Northern Elders Forum; bringing the suggestion out that this is a localised affair. Anybody who thinks that Boko Haram insurgency is religious must be thinking upside down.
What is Boko Haram all about?
It’s basically socio-economic and political agitation. And this is what is contained in our document. The crisis we are having is a socio-economic manifestation of failures of the Nigerian state in this part of our country, or in that location in the country, just like it was in the Niger Delta or elsewhere.
But Niger Delta people were talking about environmental degradation and neglect? They were producing the oil but poverty was ravaging them, and oil was exploited and taken out to Abuja
I want to comment on that misconception. The oil money is there in Niger Delta; in the hands of the leaders of the Niger Delta. Because, if you take the derivation arrangement that we are using now, you will see that Rivers State gets four or five times revenue monthly than Kano, even though Kano State is twice in population or in size that of Rivers State. Rivers State gets between N20b and N30b a month, against Kano’s N5b to N6b. So, you see the leaders of the South- South have been misusing the resources. Right from Balewa’s government, there has always been special provisions for the Niger Delta. He was the one who kick-started it. The prime minister defied all expectations and consequences to create something that would deal with the issue. This tradition continued until this particular point in time. So, you ask where is the money? Where is the huge sums of money that go in form of derivation to these areas? Where is it? Of course it is in the private planes. It is in the Yatchs that are in South Africa. Tension is created by the leaders of these people, and when the people rise up to challenge them, they will say, oh this money is in Abuja. The money that has been spent on Abuja development is less that the money Rivers State gets in a month.
Why they talk of Abuja is because the resources are pulled together in the federation’s consolidated revenue, and then shared among the three tiers of government. Correct?
In the first place, the oil revenue is not theirs, according to international law and even the law of this country. Oil resources underneath the soil of this country, on, or off shore, belongs to the nation. There is no need for any special investigation on this. It is very clear internationally. The oil is a national resource. And of course, people tend to forget. Before the oil came nko? Where were the resources coming from? I will refer you to a document that was produced recently by one of our Northern elders to show you the budgets of this country from 1914 to 1960. How money was collected and used across the regions. Deficit, mainly most of the time were found in the West, in the East. It was from the North that the budgets were operated, according to the colonial administrators. You see, it’s all politics anyway, that you want resource control. If you want to take resource control, take it, if you like. For example, you want oil, we want our land.
Your land, how?
Yes! The North has 75% of the land of this country and it’s our resource. And if you want to keep your oil, we keep our land.
How would you keep land? The South also has land.
Okay we keep our land, our cattle, our agriculture. We are happy with that. We are okay with that. That’s why we are not afraid if this country balkanizes. But in the spirit of this history of our leaders who worked hard to really get this country together, up to the point we got independence and beyond, and looking at all the various parameters of togetherness, the advantages of togetherness, one would encourage Nigerians to stay together. But if for purely political reasons, or reasons that appear selfish to me, people still insist that Nigeria is not well structured enough, and they want every part as much as possible to be on their own, so be it. We will support it.
Let me ask you this on the insurgency ravaging the country for some time now. Northern Elders have been accused of keeping quiet and have not been able to do much in quelling it. Similar incidents in other countries called for closing of ranks and return to hostilities after the emergencies. Why are you keeping quiet?
That’s not fair. I can show you a document by the Northern Elders Forum presented to Mr President in May 2012,where we made substantial suggestions, on various tactics on challenges of the country, particularly in the area of security, and the area of apparent emerging political instability in the country. I have the document right here.