Second Republic federal lawmaker and convener, Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Muhammed in this interview with JOHN ALECHENU reacts to an alarm raised by some northern elements recently that resource control was capable of splitting the country
Why does the North think resource control issue will split Nigeria?
I am aware of some of those sentiments; they are not confined to any section of the country, east or west, north or south. I did not make that statement
as I don’t share those sentiments. I am not a spokesperson for the north and I have never claimed to be speaking for the north. Those northerners who make such statements must have their own facts and such questions should be directed at them. I’m not even a member of most of those northern groups or associations.
Northern Nigeria where you come from has been accused of having too many unviable states and local governments. It is believed that this is why Northerners constantly agitate for more oil revenue to sustain them. How do you react to this?
You have to define viability because it is a solid economic term. Whenever you spend more than you take in terms of what you generate as internally- or any other generated revenue, you are living beyond your means. By that definition, you are unviable. I can say most of the states/ local governments in South like their counterparts in the North are not viable. I can also say that the majority of the local governments, especially the 15 local governments around core Kano State are very much viable. And I can say almost all the local governments in Lagos State are viable and with a little bit of inventiveness, the local government areas around Port Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha can be made viable. So, telling me that certain local governments are unviable and they are more in the North than the South is a portrayal of ignorance. What I believe is that there have been quite a number of arbitrary demands and arbitrary creations of states and local governments in the history of this country and we have lived under the illusion which was encapsulated in the statement by General Gowon when he said money was not a problem. As far as I am concerned, in every society, in every country, in every generation, money is a problem because it is a finite resource. There is a limit to the amount of money you can have and whether you handle your money well or not determines whether you move smoothly into a modern age or you don’t. To blame anybody who might have been favoured or not favoured by the current transient distribution of local governments and say yes, because you are benefiting, that is why you are against resource control, in my view, is not true and is highly tendentious and is not supported by facts. If you are saying that there are local governments in the North that are not viable, are you telling me that all the local governments in the South-West are viable? How many of them are viable? How many of the states in the South-West are viable? So you have your own unviable states and local government structure, the North has theirs. There are some in the South South just as there are in the South-East, what are we talking about?
How would you react to the argument that the high population figure often quoted for the North is doctored?
Population per se has been very political and therefore a very contentious issue in the history of Nigeria. It’s not for me to defend or deny the population figures. But I know a lot of things being said about the population count, especially the last one in 2006, which is utter rubbish. First, there have been arguments that any time the population figure does not favour, not the South, but essentially the South-East, they raise dust. I remember when I was growing up, it was Chief Michael Okpara who created the crisis which led to the revocation of the 1963/64 census. It was also from the same region that the agitation for the revocation or the annulment of the 1973 census arose. As far as I am concerned, it is not the South that is agitating. We should be very careful here so that we don’t blame people who are not in any way responsible for the situation. That is number one. Number two, the last census of 2006 was the one I followed very closely because by some accident of fate, the then chairman of the National Population Commission, Mr. Samuel Makama, happened to have been a very good friend of mine for nearly 40 years. He comes from Mangu in Plateau State. He is not Hausa/Fulani, he is not a Muslim, in fact, he is a northern minority. He is a very progressive civil servant with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Ahmadu Bello University. He was a very brilliant administrator in his own right who rose to the rank of the equivalent of director today. Sam is somebody I am prepared to defend with my eyes closed and my hands tied because I know his integrity was unimpeachable. When he was made chairman of the National Population Commission, I know the amount of soul searching which went especially in the minds of two people, General (Olusegun) Obasanjo, later President, and late Chief Sunday Awoniyi. These were people who had been in government and who were also alive working and holding positions during some of the crises caused by census. When he was picked for the job, I was asked frontally by Obasanjo, “Do you know this man?” I said yes I know him, “Can you vouch for his integrity? Yes I can, “Do you think he is too much of a politician?” I said no. In fact, he is too little of a politician. In the arguments canvassed by the South East, they said that since Nigerians could not conduct a census, we should hand it over to the United Nations. You cannot tell me the Indians don’t know how to conduct a census. The methodologies used in India were also used in other parts of the world where the UN was helping developing countries to conduct credible population count. And there have been no problem except with Nigeria. It’s also very interesting because the worst publicity which the last census got came not from the South-West or from the South-South. It came from the man who was appointed to succeed Sam Makama as NPC, Festus Odumegwu. After all this, the same people from the same tribal group, who have the same tribal agenda as Michael Okpara before are now coming to tell us oh, the census figures were cooked simply because they did not favour them. It is not my business that the Igbos normally marry late. My first wife was Igbo, I have an Igbo daughter but as a rule, they normally marry late because of the economic circumstances they face. Secondly, we also know that a majority of their women also read and read very late and the majority of the men prefer to trade, so what are we talking about here? That has been the attitude of the Igbos especially since they have now rediscovered their “friendship” with the South South. What value has that added to Nigeria? Nothing. Let them continue making those statements.
But many people still believe the North desires a very strong central government because it virtually lives off federal resources.
This is arrant nonsense! Ordinarily, I wouldn’t want to dignify this question with a comment. Let me tell you, throughout history, you first aggregate power by making sure you have power which is credible and respected. It is then you begin to say okay, let us devolve power. Anybody who knows something about the theory of power will tell you this. You can say the North is a victim of its own history. The North has been governed for over 400 years in a single area of interest. If you are dealing with people who came with such a history, you should be able to say maybe what the facts on their side are and what the fact on our side is. Will you rather have a loose federation or a loose confederation which has been agitated for by some in the South-West at certain times when it soothes them and opposed it at other times. The somersault made by Bola Tinubu regarding the National Conference for example, is a classical example. He had been the main financier of NADECO and PRONACO groups and when the time came and the President was misadvised to conduct a National Conference, Tinubu came back from London and described the whole thing as diversionary. Today, Yoruba land is split between supporters of Tinubu and those opposed to him on this issue. And that has been carried to the national conference itself. Essentially, Chief Falae and Femi Okoronmu and others are saying everything must be supported at the national conference because it is against Tinubu. The others are saying look, forget about Tinubu, look at the point he is making. Can this resolve any of our issues? I must say my friend Tinubu is having the last laugh because the conference has solved nothing. It has been a waste of time and a waste of resources and it has taken several notches up the issues that have bedevilled this country from 1914 to date, it has not resolved a single issue.
What happened to the traditional resources from the North such as the groundnut pyramids; what is the North doing to revive them?
Again this is a portrayal of ignorance on the part of some people. The groundnut pyramids are only a system of storage. And when you move from one system of storage onto another, you don’t say that that transformation is good or bad for a society or its economy. I believe a lot of groundnut is still being produced now but we have a huge population in Nigeria and the farmers are not encouraged by the economic circumstances.
At independence, the North and South had a 50: 50 strength in the officers rank of the armed forces until the likes of Babangida used their powers to skew everything in favour of the North later. Is this fair?
Babangida is given a lot of credit rightly or wrongly for a lot of things that happened in this country. Babangida had no hand in the composition of the officer corps at the time he became military President and up till today, Babangida has had no major influence in the composition of the officer corps of the Nigerian Army. Let those who are making these arguments give us figures. Those who are making those claims should also tell us what happened after a General Ihejirika became the Chief of Army Staff. I have said the man is a war criminal. The way he conducted the Nigerian Army, there was too much corruption and violations of international law, specifically international humanitarian law which provides for how war should be conducted. The way he conducted the war both in the creeks in the South-South and the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East was a criminal travesty and I believe one day, Ihejirika will appear at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. For example, there was a very controversial recruitment policy at the Nigerian Army Depot in Zaria where Abia which has a population of about 3 million had over 460 people recruited into the Nigerian Army in a move aimed at changing permanently the character of the Nigerian Army. Lagos and Kano have a population of about 12 million each; each of them had not more than 100 people recruited into the Nigerian Army at that time. I would like those people to comment on that. I would also like people to talk about what is in place at the moment at the Nigerian Defence Academy which is a degree awarding institution? I want to know, how many people are being recruited from every state and local government in Nigeria and let us see who fares better? And then when this General Minimah was appointed as Chief of Army Staff, over 146 generals were retired just to make way for him. What has happened since he became Chief of Army Staff? The Army has been further destroyed because he inherited a virtually non coherent, non corporate Army and there was nothing he could do about it because it takes time to gestate. It takes time to train people and provide them with the right weapons and equipment. It also takes time to organise the officer corps and make sure there is some cohesion because Ihejirika ran an Igbo tribal army and that’s what has happened. I won’t bother to say anything more about this.
The South South people have been agitating for resource control, why is the North always opposed to this agitation?
We are a democracy and there should be the rule of law. This country attempts or imagines or appropriates being a country governed by the rule of law. There is something called Revenue Allocation Formula and there is also the Supreme Court which gives judgements and interprets decisions. The current revenue allocation formula is illegal and also in terms of the effect it has on public financing, is also unsustainable. No country can develop with the same characteristics which is a straight jacket in term of the current structure of public finance. If anybody is talking to me on this, I want the facts as we know them. Let those pushing this issue define their terms.
The South South people claim their resources have been used largely to develop other parts of Nigeria, do you want to fault that?
This is nothing new. Resources from other parts of the country have also been used to bring out the resources they now claim to be their own. There was no South-South, the South-South itself was a creation of the North. It was northerners who went to war and died. General Zamani Lekwot reminded us last Sunday that it was Northerners who went to war and created by force all the states in the South-South. I don’t want my time wasted. We should remember that no country in the world develops by depending purely on a single resource. That is why the whole argument about resource control is another level of irresponsibility on the part of the Nigerian elite. Oil is a western asset; it is a terribly polluting asset. We get oil money which gets to other parts of the country cheap. I worked in the Niger Delta; I worked for four years in OMPADEC. It is extracting a very heavy price; I don’t want them as Nigerians to pay that price and I believe the only way for us to survive is to diversify our economy. The future belongs to agriculture and natural resources and not oil. Besides, the oil now being used is only about 52 per cent on shore. The off shore by international law belongs to the whole of Nigeria as long as Nigeria remains one single state. It is our right to explore and exploit it to develop Nigeria. It is not for me to argue with international law. Those who tried it like Iraq are paying a heavy price.
When you say there must be balanced development, is that not a way of slowing down other regions from developing at their own pace?
I have difficulty with terms which are not defined. What is a balanced development? No development is balanced because the process of development itself unbalances society.
During the agitation for independence, remember that while other regions wanted independence almost immediately, the north said it would welcome it whenever appropriate, was that not a faulty stance?
Let us look at the facts as they were. When western education came, it came to Nigeria through the South, it has that advantage. I think you can say it was a grand plan by the colonial masters to keep control of Nigeria as a prize using the traditional system of governance in the North. But somehow, for some reason, after little fights here and there, they were able to persuade the emirs to submit their patrimony to them. When that happened, there was an understanding reached that there was not going to be the imposition of certain quasi religious institutions on the North. The North was going to be allowed to gradually develop and moderate its own culture to come into terms with modernity. I am not defending that decision and it is none of my business to defend it. It had been done. There was nothing that could be done because if somebody conquers you and persuades you by force of arms or threat of force of arms, to surrender your country, you cannot come and tell him that you have a right to vary the terms under which you surrendered. In the South, the process took a different turn by and large. Missionaries came in the wake of the colonial administration and set up mission schools and of course, had a head start in western education and western style of public administration which was extended to the North and it became a problem. The North had to catch up when independence was about to be given after the Second World War. India was much more valuable to the British colonial masters than for example, Nigeria. The British were in a hurry to divest power because of the peculiar circumstance at that time. The North under the leadership of Sir Ahmadu Bello was in a dilemma. What do we do? If we say let’s have independence under any term and let the British just go away, we will be swamped and since we have not been able to negotiate among ourselves the terms on which Nigeria will be governed after independence, we had to be cautious. We had to have institutions which would last and would protect our interests the way we saw it and that was the job of politics and political leaders. When the late Enahoro moved the motion for independence in 1956 or 57, the north gave a counter motion and introduced a caveat ‘as soon as it was possible,’ essentially, there is no value in the argument except as propaganda tool but there is nothing to be said.
Don’t you think the demand for a 5 per cent stabilisation fund might encourage militia movements from other regions?
I am a key member of the committee on devolution of power. I am not aware that any of the northern delegates canvassed for that in the committee. It more or less came through some of the intervention of the chairman, Obong Victor Attah, who said we have to diverse our economy and that we should also look at those areas whose economic resources are not developed and see what we can do to develop them. He suggested that we should take it as a national policy to diversify the national economy and in doing so, look at those areas wallowing in poverty for development. That is how the idea came. Another idea was that we have to, as a matter of policy, look at the North-East which is ravaged by Boko Haram as an area which is completely devastated, infrastructure wise. If we are sincere about development, we have to declare some kind of marshal plan in the North-East, not in the whole north. We cannot have a three-tier development kind of thing. Right now, the South-West is fairly developed, they have a per capita income rate that is the highest in sub-Saharan Africa and we have other areas in parts of the country like Kano who are also pockets of development process, then we have areas which have been completely pulled down, especially in the North-East. Whether it’s their fault that they have Boko Haram or it’s all our fault, the fact remains that these areas are yearning and they are going to continue to yearn for development. Because the underdevelopment which encouraged Boko Haram to emerge will be with us until we do something about it, we have to come to terms with this development. Otherwise, something more sinister can emerge. Professor ABC Nwosu and Annkio Briggs are also members of the committee, none of them opposed it. In fact, the biggest supporters were Nwosu and myself. As regards the money for the development of solid minerals, we are not going to make the money available for governors to share. We said the thing was going to be some kind of capital finance that anybody interested in investing in some aspect of the development of solid minerals will have this money at a cheaper rate than what you get at the banks and when you do that, the state can also participate by bringing its counterpart funds. It is not going to be federal money which those in government will steal like the governors have been doing.