North is not afraid of break-up
Habib Yakoob, Abuja
Posted to the Web: Sunday, March 06, 2005
Second Republic transport minister and leader of Kaduna State
delegates to the on-going National Political Reform Conference,
Alhaji Umaru Dikko in this interview fields questions on the
conference and the polity. Specifically, he says if forced to go its
own way, the North is prepared, even as the break-up of the country
is a no-go area at the dialogue. Excerpts:
You are a delegate to the National Political Reform Conference, how
far is it going?
Well, it is going on fine. So far so good, as they say. You know it
was inaugurated on the 21st of February 2005. We have been in it for
a week now. So far we are reacting to the inaugural speech of the
So what''s your impression of the inaugural speech?
Well, the speech, to me, was all right, because it contained an
appeal to do some service to Nigeria. There was nothing too hard,
explosive, and controversial in the speech as such, it is just an
What about the ``no go area''?
I know you would talk about that. The press is very emotional about
that. But you see, he said he was appealing to us, not to talk about
issues which are capable of tearing the country apart. And I don''t
think anybody in the conference was thinking that the country should
scatter. So it was only an appeal. He couldn''t be dictating to us,
he is not a military president, he can only persuade now, unlike in
the military where he could pass a decree.
If from your statement, every delegate is matured and could not
possibly be thinking about the nation disintegrating, why then was
there need for the appeal?
Well, in my own opinion, I think there is nothing that cannot be
discussed under the sun, and that''s even my contribution at the
conference. The only thing is for us to be matured. As far as we are
concerned, we can talk about anything under the sun. But we all must
bear something in mind, that we haven't come hear to work up the
disintegration of Nigeria. The appeal is not out of place.
Do you think that the president has any hidden agenda, in convoking
Well, he said to us, there is no hidden agenda. You see, a person is
presumed innocent until proved guilty. So we are taking him as such,
we are giving him a benefit of doubt, but as time goes on, if we
discover that there is a hidden agenda, we are experienced enough, of
course to announce and say no, we can't be part and parcel of this
Were you troubled as a Muslim when the leadership of the confab,
particularly the chairmanship and the position of secretary went to
Frankly, I didn't even notice that, until somebody drew our attention
to it. It was noticed by even those who represented religious groups
or organizations. But I don''t think that should cause any alarm; we
shall try to arrive at conclusions through consensus. We are hoping
that we shall never have to come to a point where we shall have to
vote on religious lines. So I am not worried.
There are insinuations that the confab is largely dominated by people
who contributed to the problems we face today and which the same
conference is set to address, do you deny this?
Well, I don't know any body that deliberately contributed to the
problem of Nigeria, any body who has been at the helm of affairs of
this country, I believe only did his best for the country. So this
idea of contributing to the problems does not make sense to me. You
see, when you look at a scale, you look at the positive and the
negative, we are very good at condemning ourselves; any bad name that
Nigeria ever had, was given to us by Nigerians. Even this corruption,
we started talking about it,simply because some people were not in
power and others wanted to discredit them. So we should stop being
over negative, and try to appreciate that we are only being human,
and being human we are liable to make mistakes, and so long as
mistakes are not deliberate, they could be pardonable.
The way I see it is that we never have a perfect set of people to
rule Nigeria, and we of course shall never have. Except we expect
angels to come down to rule us. You see, every country in the world
has got its own problems, peculiarities, plus and minuses, so when
you look at the minus, also look at the plus, and don''t try to heap
the whole minuses upon a particular set of people, or group of
people. That's what our people always try to do here. One way or the
other, we all play our part even outside leadership. But you see, we
should look at our advantages rather than pursue the other side. How
many countries today in this world, has passed through a civil war
and still come out as strong as we are. We are all back together
laughing together, no guerrilla warfare, this is a good thing. But we
never appreciate any thing. We condemn the present, we condemn the
past, and we are even likely to condemn the future.
Again, do you see the wisdom in this argument that those who made the
confab list are some old men largely over 65, and who should have no
business talking where the future of the present generation is being
You see, it is all about this baseless skepticism that has eaten
deeply into us, and it is serious. If you go to China, for instance,
you are considered fit and matured enough only when you approach 70.
We are talking about political experience. But then, at the moment,
if you look at Nigerian and take a look at the state and federal
assemblies, and even the governors, they consist largely of people
who are young and under 65; we have left the entire space to them,
but what have we gotten today? Nothing to write home about. You see,
if everything is in order and they are able to live up to the
people''s expectations, perhaps there might have been no need for
this conference. So experience is the answer, when things become so
difficult, we are called upon to help and salvage the situation. You
see, in the constitutional conference of 1995, I brought a proposal
to have a house of elders, which should consist of people with
tremendous experience, it matters not their field of endeavour.
These people would have distinguished themselves. When you go there,
it is for life. This should be for those of us who are experienced
and versed. And I will come again with the idea. But you see last
time when I brought it up, in 1995, when I was fresh from my exile,
some said it would undermine the position of the Senate. Of course
because theses people wanted to contest, they never supported it. The
house of elders is not going to be like council of state, I am
talking about a composition of Nigerians who have distinguished
themselves as Nigerian nationally and internationally in different
Are they going to earning salaries?
They would not be paid. You see, Nigerians always think about money.
They will not be paid. For instance, there are certain people that in
their life, they are not looking for so much money, they are only
looking for simple sitting allowances. It is the honour that's most
important, they will always give you second opinion, because they
have good experience. Even if you are a retired boxer and your name
is known around the world, you should be in the place. They will be
advisory. When the nation or government is in trouble, they are going
to run to them. You see the House of Lord in England, this people are
matured and whatever problem brought before them they can always help.
The North appears to be uncomfortable with this idea of going back to
regional status. And some argued that this is because it has no
alternative to relying on the statutory allocations from the
government purse. What is your opinion?
You see, I have said that the greatest problem we have today in the
country is tying everything to money, resources, etc. This issue is
not about resource, after all, time was when the country depended on
the meager resources of the regions. Cocoa, rubber, tea, of course,
these were meager resources compared to oil, but then we all
survived. We should look at the future of our country.
But let me tell you one thing, the North is never afraid of staying
on its own, though it would do anything within its power to stay
together with other Nigerians. However, if it is forced upon us to
break away from the South, the North shall not perish, we can
survive. We have been endowed with everything, we require to survive.
If we turn to agriculture, we can feed ourselves comfortably, because
we have good land, we can also grow cash crops such that we can earn
revenue in foreign exchange much more than crude oil is offering
Nigeria now. We have solid minerals, we have gas, indeed we have
The only thing you can say that we don't have is port, but we don't
even need that now, because we can use even the trans Saharan route.
>From Kano to Tripoli by the Mediterranean will take only two days,
then Kano to Lagos. We are not landlocked……But as I said, we shall
not be the first to call for the disintegration of the country, but
if its forced upon us, we shall not be afraid, and shall not lose
So if the North has all these resources, how comes the leaders of the
North, including you never tried to harness all these to the benefit
You see, the mistake that we have made generally came with the
discovery of oil, every one turned away and expected revenue only
from this source. We wanted cheap monies, cheap dole from oil and the
government. This also killed the groundnut pyramid. We became lazy,
we wanted cheap monies.
But now, we are impressing it upon the northern governors to go into
full programmes, and get more concern about education, and the
agricultural sector and the exploitation of solid minerals, this is
where we want them to concentrate.
What is your mission in coming to this conference?
Well, I have always said that politically, I am qualified to do any
job in the country, or in the world and since Nigeria is the only
country that I have, and since I have experience of living in exile,
where I was begging to stay in another man country, I should know the
value of having a country more than most of us here, so if there is
anytime I am asked to come and help and give my experience, I should
never hesitate, because I love my country.
I remember in 1995, when I was in exile and Abacha wanted me to come
to the constitutional conference, people said how can you go back to
the same military that did this to you, but my answer was that I was
not coming to serve the military, but to serve my country in my own
capacity, and since I had been calling for democracy, and if I am
invited to serve to be at the heart of setting a viable structure for
democracy, I would be doing a great disservice to my self and my
country if I refused. So I came. It is this same way that I am here.
But mark you, I never lobby. If there is anyone who says that I ever
lobbied for anything in this country, he or she should come out and
say it. I never do that. If you think that I am capable, then invite
me, but if you think that I am not, so be it. I mind my own business.
Do you think three months is enough for this conference or you want
Well, the presdent, in his opinion said three months, and since this
is what we are asked to do, well we will try. The most important
thing is that we must be seen to do a good job, a qualitative one.
And if this is going to be done for one month, let it be, or one day
But how long is more appropriate?
To be frank with you, three months is too short, for a job of that
magnitude. I think nine months is appropriate. But I tell you, it's
not going to be easy for us. You see, people think that all we are
there to do is to make money, they have forgotten that its just a
selfless disservice. What do we do with N20,000 a day. You leave your
family at home; you come and lodge in hotel, and eat and do a lot of
things. With N20, 000 you can do nothing, I think we should be
Are you sympathetic to the course of PRONACO?
You see, they have a problem; they talk about ethnic nationalities,
this kind of big, big grammar……trying to look more English than the
English. What is ethnic nationality……? The real thing is tribe, but
because we think we are highly elitist, we don't want to use the word
tribe. It's primitive……but lets not bother about that for now. If the
people believe that they have something to offer, why were they
running away? They should have come and joined us and come with their
ethnic nationality stuff.
Between the absence of comprehensive constitution and lack of good
leadership, which do you consider the worse problem of this country?
Well, I heard some people at the confab, saying that it is not the
constitution that's the problem, it is the people operating it that
have the problem, I think I beg to differ. I know the people who
operate the constitution are not infallible, and at the same time the
document called the Nigerian constitution mostly was drawn up by the
elites whose brain has been tampered by western education. So some of
our thinking is aligned to the kind of thinking in the outside world,
and very often, you discover that the constitution such drawn will
fail to take into account our peculiarities. We make it as if we are
making it for angels. So it's two side, those who operate the
constitution and the constitution itself.
I give you one example, when you say a president, vice president,
governor, deputies etc are immune from prosecution when they are in
power, its implication is that you are giving him freedom to do
whatever he likes with public funds or power. And when they do that,
you say that you are waiting until he leaves office and he runs away,
what do you do? Supposing that they are is murdering people daily,
you wait for four years? So all these have to be touched. So you cant
say that it is the leader who is always the problem and not the
constitution. Even if you want to say we need to bring down the sun,
you would have those who would answer you. So they should have come
instead of staying behind and talking about this ethnic nationality
Last year, you said you were going to form an organization, Arewa
Union (AU), which a lot of people saw as a challenge or alternative
the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), since then, nothing has been
heard about it. The AU must be dead by now……
No, it's not dead, you see, I believe in doing things quietly. My
first training was in mathematics and then law. So I do things with
caution and care. Something is going on, but I am not making noise.
But the fact is that we are being hampered a little bit by lack of
money. If you want to do anything today in Nigeria, you need money
and we haven't gotten.
We always wonder what difference your AU can make, given that there
is so much duplication of roles now by these organizations. You would
recall that Dr Olusola Saraki just formed his own Northern Union (NU)
Well, I will tell you what Saraki did. When I wanted to form my AU,
we met and talked and he gave me the undertaking, and promised that
he was going to support. He even promised to send some of his
friends. To my surprise, he came with this his Northern Union. Now
look at this, my own organization is called the AU (Arewa Union), his
own is now called the Northern Union (NU). Can you tell me the
difference? The difference perhaps is only in Northern and Arewa, and
Arewa is just the English translation of Northern. So you can see.
Are you saying he copied your idea?
Well, you can sort that out yourself. But Nigeria is big, he picked
his, I will pick my people too from Nigeria.
Well, he has money and as you rightly pointed out, money is talking
Ah, so you are telling me that he has gotten money and I haven't
gotten money. That doesn't frighten me at all. I am going ahead with
'I Have No Anxiety On This Conference'
Rev. Fr Hassan Matthew Kukah spoke with MARTINS ONOJA on why he accepted to serve as Secretary of the National Political Reform Conference, his impression on the Nigerian Constitution and relationship with President Obasanjo.
Happy with the way Oputa Panel turns out
I THINK Oputa panel had ended up in a manner I could never have dreamt of, and I am more than happy the way it ended. More than happy; really happy because whereas it would have been subjected to the - I don't want to use the word caprices - but it would have been subjected to the decision of just one or two persons. As you might have listened to Tony Iredia and Jerry Gana last week on Point Blank, Jerry Gana made a point very well - that the President had actually handled the report. He and one or two other people were already working on the white paper of the Oputa Panel before the court injunction came. I mean before the court processes came to help the Supreme Court rule.
And it is evident that there are legal implications - a point that was very much glossed over by even some of the best newspapers in the land. People just kept saying the President ought to release the report. But what these people didn't tell us is that; how you could do that without being in breach of the law. I don't know what the law was but I tried to get the Supreme Court ruling and I went through it and I found that as a lay person, I thought the Supreme Court considered a lot of things that were being asked for. Because some of the things that were being talked about were not the things on the table.
But having said that, Oputa Panel has now come back in a much better shape in a much better form. Because now everything there will be discussed by people who may not have been happy with this government for setting up the Commission but do not have a choice. But it is now possible for 400 people representing 120 million Nigerians to collectively decide on how they want the white paper of the report to be...or they know what kind of white paper they would like to see. So to that extent, quite frankly, I thank God that things turned out the way they did because right now, the opponents of Oputa Panel report have exhausted their legal remedies. Now they have nowhere to go to. And I think I am happy. I didn't expect that but we can now have the last laugh. So it is just to make the point that you never know how it is all going to end up.
So if you asked me if I have any fears or anxiety about the outcome of this Conference my answer is no. I don't have any anxiety largely because if you ask me to do a job and I take up a job I believe in, I give it 120 per cent, and after I've done my best that's all I can ask for. There are certain things that are outside my personal control. And everything that you have to do once you introduce the human variable, it is an uncontrollable variable because you don't know what human beings are going to do.
But quite frankly, what is in my mind now is: I am not interested in what President Obasanjo is thinking about. I am not interested in what Nigerians are thinking about. I am interested in seeing how best I can do a job that has been assigned to me to do. And like I said in Oputa Panel, the last thing we need in this country is cynicism because along with nihilism, it leads us to a dead end. And things can only get progressively worse for the rest of us.
We have a process on ground. It didn't drop from heaven. And there will never be any perfect process. Nobody, I repeat, nobody has a superior argument; that is the truth of the matter. The best we can do is to be positive. Perhaps, if the President had said you are not allowed to discuss XYZ, then I would have had a problem. But he had said it openly in his speech; everything is part and parcel of the contestation. So unless Nigerians can order another agenda - and they are free to have other agenda - I don't see why we should not, as it were, take much more seriously the issues that are on the table.
Of course, I concede as always the right of Nigerians to be cynical. Why? Because for 30 years, we have been lied to. We have been cheated. We have had fraudulent regimes. All kinds of reports have been put together and never seen the light of the day. Like I said to somebody else, this is the first time that we have been asked to lift up carpet because we use this famous expression, "everything has been swept under the caret." We now have the chance to lift up the carpet and see what is under the carpet. It is a rare opportunity. Besides, this Conference is free to call for anything and any material that might be relevant to the kind of assignment that we have to do. But I just hope that we can take advantage of that.
President Obasanjo never gave us any 'no-go area'
The President did not list a 'no-go area', but if people remain cynical...okay. But don't forget that Moses and his Jewish people could have remained cynical and not attempted to cross the River Nile. Okay? They could have remained cynical and not attempted to cross the Red Sea even when the Rivers were parted. So really there is nothing you can do with a cynic because when the door is open, a cynic will tell you, there must be a reason why this door is open. When the door is closed, a cynic will tell you, if the door is closed, I can't get out. But when the door is open, a cynic will tell you the door is open because somebody wants to get me. So there is nothing you can do with a cynic. And if Nigerians don't cure themselves of cynicism, there is nothing you can do. I mean if you remain cynical about marriage, you would never get married. If you remain cynical about journalists, you will never become a journalist. If you remain cynical about life, you will do nothing in life except destroy yourself. So I don't think that Nigerians can continue to live in the past, because quite frankly, I am ready to bow to superior argument. And unless somebody has a superior argument, what I see now is: I believe we have an opportunity to mould our country in a particular direction and that is something I can address as a citizen of Nigeria.
The reason in the final analysis is: some of us have had the most wonderful opportunity. I could have been living elsewhere outside this country but I have never, I repeat, never wanted to stay to live my life elsewhere except in this country. And I need to be concerned about how it is governed.
My belief in Nigeria
I believe in the country because one, I believe in God. And two, I believe that God placed me here with a purpose and there is nobody, no creature that God created without providing for it. If all the animals that God has put in the temperate region, He has provided for them: the Eskimos He has provided for them. He has provided for you in a manner He has not provided for somebody living in the UK. So I don't believe for one moment that we don't have all it takes for us to realise what God wanted us to be. I believe we have made mistakes. I believe we will continue to make mistakes. But you know I believe with all my heart that Nigeria has a date with destiny and with history.
When you look at the responsibilities we have as blacks, you cannot help but become passionate about how this country is organised. I thank God, I don't want to sound immodest but I have had my own fair share of travels, and I can tell you that the more I travel around the world, the more passionate I become about Nigeria because believe me, I have not seen - when I say it people think I am joking - I have not seen very many places, the gathering of the kind of competent people that I see in my country. America has had to import all kinds of human beings including Nigerians to boost what it has. Europe has done it everywhere: they required slavery to get to where they are. Now here we are, we are not happy with all that God has done for us. We do not have to enslave anybody but we still have the opportunities.
So like I said, let's accept the fraud of the past. But let us realise that with the quality of men and women that we have now, we have a high moral responsibility and whenever opportunity provides itself for us to make our contribution, I will take it with two hands. I didn't come back to Nigeria to while away my time. I am about 50 years old. I don't know how long still I have to live. But I want to see that those coming behind us can walk very straight. There is no reason why they can't because if I tell people rather jokingly, I say if you go to America or anywhere in Europe, if you see a Blackman walking, you don't have to be told. Walk across, you will see he is a Nigerian. If you see anybody walking straight with confidence in the streets of Europe, you don't have to be told, be sure he is a Nigerian. So if we have so much confidence and belief in ourselves, why can we not make this system work?
The problem with Nigeria
Nigeria is severely under-led. It is under-led in all departments. And also because, we the intellectuals of Nigeria have abandoned our responsibilities. If you wanted to go to Ahmadu Bello University in the late 70s and early 80s, the only place to go to was the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences because that is where people debated or contested all kinds of issues. It was a lot of excitement. There is nowhere that civilisation has been based on just people with bags of money. It is intellectuals that build the world. Now, I think that is one thing that has been missing here. We put this down to the years of military rule. That is part of the tragedy of Nigeria now.
Some people keep saying Nigeria is so lucky, we have never had an earthquake. Like I have said it before and I will say it again, I probably would have preferred an earthquake to military rule, because the disaster of the rule of the military is worst than an earthquake. In terms of the breakdown of public morality, the breakdown of public order, economic order and the shattering of our collective microcosm, we have to go back to the starting block to re-define ourselves, where the debates about religion, about Christians, about Muslims, all the ethnic cleavages that emerged arose. Because the military itemised society and decided who they wanted to do business with; the politicisation of ethnic identities by the military was just basically what the English did. What the French did was what the Germans did. The saddest thing about this rule was that it was by our own kith and kin. The sad thing is that Nigerians are blaming themselves for something that somebody else did because we never rose up against the military. Okay, one military regime came, a few Idoma people felt they were well placed. It was enough for Idoma to celebrate against the Tiv people. So the Tiv people sat down and waited for somebody else to come. Or a military regime came and was favourable to Christians and then Christians said, this is our time. And so the Muslims said well, we will wait. You have this cyclical turn of events, which at the end of the day we ended up collectively being the losers because we kept thinking our day would come and our day never came.
So is the whole contestation around citizenship. Part of that conversation would have been closed by the 70s and 80s, but once the military came in and decided almost like the colonial state that it would succeed by dividing and ruling, it meant that all kinds of identities became tools of war. And this is why this process that has been put in place, the only way we can deal with it is that we go back to the starting block and figure out how best we can begin to negotiate as Nigerians.
So all these nonsense that people are talking about, I heard some people were saying oh, Justice Niki Tobi is a Christian and he is minority. Father Kukah is a Christian and he is a minority. I don't know... but I come from the same state as Umaru Dikko. I went to the same primary school with Emmanuel Toro. And now for somebody to tell me that because though I come from the same place as Umaru Dikko and I have known Umaru Dikko much longer than I have ever known Niki Tobi, that I will suddenly meet Justice Niki Tobi here and start something. I don't know which Church he goes to, but suddenly simply because he is a Christian he and I are supposed to have the same agenda. It doesn't make sense.
And you can reduce this nonsense to anything, whether it is gender or whatever and my position is that, unless we merge our country to a point in which you can contest what you can contest on the basis that you are a citizen of Nigeria, not because you are a Muslim, not because you belong to this ethnic group and then somebody denies you a job, you don't just go up sulking you can actually sue. The only basis for doing that has to be a constitutional framework for defining what are the rights of citizens. It is in the absence of that, that we have what we have here today.
That is why Americans also put it in their Constitution. In fact, to many Americans it's even dearer to them than - I mean to some secular Americans - it is dearer to them than the Bible, because that is the Church that they have and that is why Martin Luther King (Jnr) said the problem that the Black people have with the American-State is that you issue us a cheque, we went to the bank, we discovered the cheque had bounced. So in the same way, the Nigerian-State has issued us a cheque, but if it issues you a cheque as a citizen and the cheque bounces, you can now come back and say this is what you seek. So that is why if I support a process like this, it is because without the rule of law, we are stuck with the rule of men. And the rule of men comes with all the excesses that come with being a human being.
So I feel that citizenship is just so fundamental to democracy, to growth. Amatya Sen has argued in his wonderful book about development, that, there is a correlation between freedom and development. (Amatya Sen, the economist, won the Nobel Prize. He used to be an Oxford Professor, he is now in Harvard.) But he argued that there's a correlation between freedom and development. That if people don't have freedom, they cannot develop. Unless we are free, we can't develop, we might be rich but never be wealthy. And there are disputes on this: a rich man is not necessarily a wealthy person. A rich nation is not necessarily a wealthy nation. And Nigeria cannot transit from riches to wealth. You only become wealthy when you invest in values, when you invest in human beings. But right now, because Nigerians are rich, and because such riches are sometimes ill-gotten, that's why they are investing in all kinds of funny secular and material structures. It's the kind of car you drive, it's the kind of house you have and so forth. And unless a country more or less invests in its people, it cannot be said to be rich. It cannot be said to be a wealthy country, because riches don't necessarily make you wealthy.
Wealth is defined by the kind of values that you hold on to and therefore if freedom places a high premium on human being for just being human, you are reduced to placing values on human being because they are related to you. That is why it then helps you to understand Hutus-Tutsi thing. It also helps you to understand the nonsense about people calling themselves Christians or Muslims killing one another, people calling themselves people of one ethnic group or the other. I think that this is where the bottom line is because progressively the world is moving to a particular level of humanity and humanness. And we ought to be part of the conversation but we cannot continue unless we have structures on ground that can guarantee peace, justice because if you don't have justice it is inconceivable that you can talk about peace. The most peaceful place to be is the graveyard. The graveyard is what it is because nobody there can talk.
So I see the convulsions that we are going through at this stage of our lives I see the disenchantment, I see the dissatisfaction. It's a natural outcome. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt but after Exodus God did some very spectacular thing that only Him can do: people were looking for water in the desert. There are no rocks in the desert but certainly, God should have simply said to Moses that listen, just tell the men to start digging, they will find water. But He said strike a rock, and water comes out, but still people were saying they were hungry and all of a sudden bread began to fall from heaven. But the same people got tired of it and said, 'we are tired of all this nonsense: we need to go back to Egypt.' So constantly the transition from possibility to promise is always characterised by these uncertainties.
The downtrodden people are saying things like: may be during Abacha's time, things were not too bad. So it's not new. The conversation is not new. The lead question is: how do you continue to nudge people on in hope that this is just a transit camp? Prophecy is about what is possible, not necessarily about what is today. We may not be having the most wonderful election. We may be having fraudulent elections. But fraud is all a part and parcel of this package. And as the system goes on and on, we will continue to correct and correct until we get somewhere. We will never attain perfection. America has been trying for the last 200 years. George Bush won a questionable election, breaks all the rules of electoral democracy but he sits down as the President. The Americans kept on with their business and said we could do it again. The real question is whether we can develop the capacity to go beyond just thinking that failing to win an election is the end of democracy. That is what we did in 1966. One would think that by now we would have learnt our lesson, because 1966 to 1999 were years of misery, largely because we simply took advantage believing that if we brought the soldiers in, they would rectify the electoral fraud because every election we have had, has always been their problem.
On the Constitution and the role of National Assembly
To my mind, since this is where everybody's attention is and so much premium is being placed on the Constitution, to the extent that Nigerians believe that there is never a perfect Constitution; a point of view that is largely an illusion. To that extent, they will continue to believe that somehow they must keep correcting this through whatever process. But now despite having a National Assembly on the ground, the argument didn't go away. And unfortunately for us, Nigeria has never really managed to establish a rapport between themselves and the members of the National Assembly. And I think one of the great tragedies in this country is the obsession with the ideal, and many of us place burdens on others that we ourselves don't have the capacity to meet up. So you look at the National Assembly and everybody is just saying that everybody in National Assembly is a thief. Or he just thinks everybody in National Assembly has just come there to make money. I am sure there are people in the National Assembly who left decent businesses in order to be where they are. And I am not unaware of the fact that there are those who were more or less on a gravy train, fine. But that process exists everywhere. Unfortunately for us, we do not sufficiently engage that process. Because of this lack of trust, Nigerians continue to agitate for something better. Now the truth of how something better is going to look, nobody knows. But somehow, I think that a lot of these problems are going to dissolve, as Nigerians become progressively literate. Let me use that expression, because some of the contradictions that dog the system are not unconnected with the existing baggage of poverty and illiteracy that we carry.
You tell a man who is in Abuja not to try and make money then you forget how Abuja resonates. When you tell anybody in the remotest part of Nigeria you are going to Abuja, it confers awe on you. If you tell anybody you have just come back from Abuja, there's how they will look at you. It's better than coming back from London. It's necessarily to put an electoral officer on his toes or threatening anybody with Abuja, so when you live in that kind of environment, you can't come from Abuja empty-handed.
So the reality then is: the kind of demand we ought to make on our National Assembly is more or less a learning process. Right now if you are a Member of Parliament in the UK, people will complain about their taxes but nobody will come to you saying they want you to give them money to marry a new wife, to pay their school fees or to pay hospital bills. Because if a member of National Assembly here goes to his constituency office to sit down, he is not likely to hear people telling you anything other than; 'my pikin wan job,' 'we want money for school fees; we want money for hospital bills'; bills that somebody practically inherits. What are you going to tell them?
But I thought that somehow this conversation could easily have been still put together. We could still have pushed on, if we collectively embrace the process, and for the problem is that so many people, so many deeply gifted people who ought to be engaging this process. And as long as that happens, we are going to continue to have this kind of a sea-saw, so you have a Constitution today and tomorrow Nigerians tell you they want something different. But the first thing, of course, is to get people to put their faith in the Constitution. But over and above that if you have a population that is so illiterate you still ask the question: how many people's lives are regulated by what the Constitution says? What is it in the Constitution that is justiciable? And I think that even for us to incorporate in that kind of conversation, there has to be a level of justiciability of certain issues.
The question may be asked: can I be living in a country like Nigeria with so much money and still not have an education? What am I entitled to as a citizen of Nigeria? Can I be living in a country like Nigeria and not be entitled to, as a woman, a certain level of state support when I am pregnant and carrying a baby that is going to be a citizen of Nigeria? There is a range of issues, and once you begin to unpack some of these issues, whether you make constitutional provisions for them or whether you just take notice of them, it is important, because they are important and they are part and parcel of the conversation of governance. Right now, what we have is: because of the living under the military, Nigerians believe collectively that if you get water to drink in our village, you just sit down and thank God but that you don't have the right to ask the governor, or the local government chairman to give you water. We still believe that no citizen has got the right to ask the local government chairman or a governor.
By the way, how much is our state receiving? I might think that now the office of the Accountant-General has a website that you can go through and see how much money is being paid to your local government? What is it that is wrong that it's impossible for us given the best economist, that we cannot go there and take all these records and go to the local government chairman and say that we hear that this money has been given to us, where is the money going to? Instead, people are talking about what Obasanjo is doing and what Obasanjo is not doing. And this obsession with the centre is not getting to the heart of what some of these issues are. So even if you have constitutional provisions, people have to be sufficiently interested in knowing very clearly what rights they have, so as to be able to protect those rights. So to me, that is the only reason why this conversation is important.
My relationship with President Obasanjo
I don't believe in Obasanjo. I believe in God first of all. I don't believe in any human being. But I have known Obasanjo for quite some time and I am humbled. Let me put it that way: That he considers me a friend of his. But one good thing is that he knows my mind about a lot of things. Let me tell you that he would ask me to come and serve on this Commission at all is a risk that he took. Let me put it that way. He knew that himself after Oputa Panel, and he knew my mind because I told him my mind.
But beyond that, I believe him on a range of issues. I have read quite a number of things that Obasanjo has said. I have read the things that he said 20 years ago. But I also appreciate his passion for wanting a particular kind of Nigeria, a particular kind of society and a particular kind of Africa. I don't envy him that. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't have the kind of charisma - like I was saying to you - that is necessary for politics, because politics is about charisma; charisma is about drama. And with charisma you can get away with a thousand and one things.
Unfortunately for President Obasanjo, he is one plain human being. What you see is what you get. And what he says in a market place is likely to be the same thing he is going to say at the World Bank. It is likely to be the same thing he is going to say in the presence of anybody. Now as I said, those kinds of personalities are just very easy as it were. To create a kind of drama that you require especially, as I said, when you are coming from a post-authoritarian regime, such as the one we came through. You see South Africa after Mandela, you see Mandela at the Rugby match between South Africa and Australia or New Zealand. You see Mandela at the stadium the day Bafana Bafana won the Africa Cup of Nations. You see Mandela who is not a good dancer, but you can see that he is moving the crowd. In contrast, an Obasanjo with the Eagles coming with a Cup and you say, all we have to do is they just get a handshake. Now, it is a question of style. And there are times in people's lives that what you need is not reason; it's just emotions. That depends on how you respond to those emotions.
I believe that God has his own plans for Nigeria. That's my own belief as a Christian. But I also believe that He uses human instruments not because these instruments are acceptable to the rest of us. And I believe that to the extent Obasanjo has got the experience of having been there before; there are a thousand and one things that he has done that I am sure other people could have done differently.
But I believe that a lot of the problems we have today are largely some of the problems of the old order. In fact, one of the things that I said to Obasanjo was: "Look, there is a problem with the message. People don't know what exactly you are trying to do. Now, the problem with the message is that, using this imagery, I remember saying you could easily have told Nigerians look, we came here, I assembled all these ministers with brooms because we wanted to clean up these cobwebs. But we arrived and found that it was actually an earthquake, so we can't use broom to clear the debris; we will use something different and it's going to take us a much longer time." And I think that if the government had been able to sufficiently and very clearly define the nature of the depth of corruption; the dept of the problems we inherited, and how long it was going to take beyond the first year or even ten years of this regime, a clear communication of that massage would have helped to moderate our expectations.
Discontentment and disenchantment soon set in, because Nigerians naturally expected that the end of military rule was going to be the beginning of democracy, was going to be the beginning of jobs, and was the beginning of all kinds of things. But we forgot that the old order never ever surrender its ways. It doesn't happen that way. So I believe that there are quite a lot of policies that are on the ground I was saying to somebody yesterday... I listened to some of the ministers, when I listen to some of the people, talking, I talk to people in National Assembly, and I see a lot of very passionate and committed men and women, and the obsession of some Nigerians always demonising an entire people and our inability to even isolate some of the areas of excellence. You cannot fail an examination until you know somebody has passed. So if you don't have the mechanism for measuring and regarding success, then it will be impossible for us to figure out whether we are actually growing or not growing.
I have never and I shouldn't think that I would believe Obasanjo all the way because there are a thousand and one things that he has done that I may not have agreed with, but he is President. I am not President. And sometimes, I am privy to the kind of information that a President has at his disposal. But I can tell you from roaming a small carriage, as a priest where I speak on the altar and nobody can answer me back; where we are only talking about going to heaven, not about giving jobs and so on and so forth. I can tell you after doing that, I don't envy anybody who has the responsibility of ruling Nigeria. As I often hear people say Obasanjo doesn't listen. Maybe it is true. But I often ask myself, if I were a President I get every minister advising me on one single issue, every traditional ruler advising me, everybody that cares advising me, but at the end of the day, whose advice are you going to take?
I think all of us need to be critically engaged in this process because the issue of supporting Obasanjo is totally out of the question. I have no business supporting Obasanjo. I have a business supporting Nigeria. And anybody including Obasanjo who deviates from the principle that I believe ought to uphold this country, I will fight them. Let me use that expression. And I think all of us need that spirit. That kind of engagement so that it gets beyond just the instrumentality or the agents of human beings, because you would get a President that you like simply because he is an Idoma man, an Igala man or he is our old classmate or we went to the same school. But we are never going to get a President that all of us would like. It doesn't just happen. Even the apostles of Jesus Christ how many were they? They were only 12 but at the end what happened? And they were not fighting over contracts. They were not fighting over anything. This thing should make us understand that those who hold power, sometimes those who are critical of you may be those you may require. And those who are praise-singers may not necessarily be. But I just believe that all of us need to engage the process.
My own no-go area
Fascism. Fatalism. Indolence. But then, I don't think anybody will come to this event or will agree to come to this event and not be committed to making a contribution. And I think everybody who is coming here is coming with his own package. Most of the people coming to this conference, I believe everybody has a family, they have got a career. They have got a profession. Some have excelled in their profession. If I had a choice, I may not have chosen some of the people, I may not even have chosen myself. But in the way God does His things, everybody is here for a purpose. And I think if I were an outsider, I would want to give people a chance.
I don't think it gets to the argument for people to say you have a gathering of old men. In the same society, where Mandela is a legend, but the same Nigerians who still revere Mandela, whatever Mandela says, they are ready to stand and listen. But their own 70-year-old men talk and they say they are too old to talk. The same Nigerians who will bow
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