The Tuesday’s inauguration of the new cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari marks the effective take off of the Next Level administration of the All Progressives Congress (APC). But while the government is expected to hit the ground running, some state actors are busy scheming for the 2023 epic power battle.
In this interview, Dr Junaid Muhammed, warns against continued marginalization of certain sections of the country, especially the Southeast, saying the region is too important to be ignored.
He also takes introspection into the performance of the immediate past government vis-à-vis the position of some aggrieved Northern elements, who accuse the president of shortchanging the region.
Some interest groups in the North are strongly aggrieved that President Muhammadu Buhari has shortchanged the North in terms of his key appointments. Do you agree with their sentiment?
What I can tell you from my limited vantage point is that from the time Buhari came to power, there has been a consistent pattern of appointment. Some of the appointments were deliberately skewed; some were made by mistake. Thirdly, some of the people around him were more interested in their personal aggrandizement than actually helping the president to run the country. This was made public not by me, but by Buhari himself. I don’t think there is ever a government in Nigeria, which has been as accommodating and favourable to the Southwest than this government. And I don’t want to circumvent the intention of Mr President or question his political goal in making some of the appointments.
Already, some cynics have predicted that the alliance between the North and Southwest, which led to the emergence of the APC-led government, will soon collapse in view of some of the things you have said. Do you also subscribe to that?
Let me say this, I was not a party to the alliance of the five legacy parties, which brought about APC. But I have said it severally and I am still repeating it, without the alliance of the five legacy parties, there would have been no APC. Without the APC, there would have been no Buhari President. Without Tinubu, who had to bend backward to accommodate everybody else in the other parties, I have no doubt in my mind that there would not have been APC and there would have been no Buhari president. What brought the five parties to form the alliance, I have no idea. I had a party then, but I was not invited to join maybe they thought I had nothing to contribute to the alliance. As far as I am concerned, no harm is done. There are people who believe that the Southwest and the North have a lot in common and that the nation itself would gain more by the coming together of the two of them. That combination of the North and South is the only guarantee that we have for the national unity of this country. Without that national unity, I can’t see how this diversity of culture can co-exist together with expectation of strong political and economic progress. To the extent that this was the motivation of some of the people, I very much endorsed the creation of APC as a party. However, I have been disappointed because I expected ideology to play a greater role in making sure that the country has certain core values by which it stands. Without the core values, I don’t see how a country can achieve greatness. Even those in advanced countries believe in something as part and parcel of their core values.
I also want to warn that any attempt by the predominant groups either in the North or the Southwest to alienate or marginalize the minority, particularly in the South-south will backfire very badly. They must also recognize that the Southeast is equally too important to be ignored. It is their people who live in the Diaspora; Lagos, Abuja and the rest, that are behind most of the trouble making in the Southeast. They are the ones who are always going round collecting money from any part of the country that is ready to offer them money and thereafter they come back to create trouble. For as long as the elite in the Southeast do not talk to themselves and take the people they are leading very seriously, they will continue to be marginalized. If you cannot produce people who have the necessary leadership qualities, you cannot say we must give you leadership. It doesn’t happen that way at all. If they have a man, who is competent, a man who has compassion, they should put him forward to contest with other people of like minds. But for anyone to be going round Abuja, claiming money in the name of agitation, it will not take anybody anywhere.
What exactly do you think the North deserves, but has got under the Buhari administration?
If you want to give people their fair share, you must give them what is commensurate to their effort. The government in power today is as a result of persistent political loyalty of the North and their overwhelming votes. From the day Buhari joined politics to contest election in 2003; he has always got nothing less than five million votes. For instance, in Kano, where I live, and was born, Buhari has never got anything less than 1.2 to 1.5 million votes in addition to Jigawa, Kaduna and Katsina states. Kano gave doubt the volume of votes Lagos gave him. So, if people say they have been shortchanged, they are right. But that is not enough to say that nothing will happen since they have been shortchanged. The thing is that you have to let people who have been worse off in the last four years to benefit. And in doing so, you have to do cost and benefits analysis by putting people where they have comparative advantage. There is a need for us to have a sense of fairness. Buhari himself has said it that he deliberately gave Northern representatives in his cabinet unimportant ministries. In most cases, those he appointed are ministers of state or junior ministers. In the former Ministry of Work, Power and Housing alone, which, for instance, was four ministries put together as one, Fashola alone was given the ministry with one man from Borno, who does not know his left from right, as a junior minister. So, it was easy for Fashola to manipulate him. Fashola is a tragic and shameless tribalist. Whosoever you blame for the $16 billion allegedly stolen from the power sector under Obasanjo and Goodluck, you also want to ask what Fashola has done in the power sector. Who were his consultants? As to the question of what the North wants, the North economy is essentially agrarian. And unless the government invests massively in agriculture, there is no way to raise the standard of living of the people of the North. And it should not be forgotten that at least 75 per cent of the landmass and the water resources in Nigeria belong to the North from time immemorial. So, if you want to invest in the North, you must invest in agriculture and water resources. That has not been self-evident. As far as I am concerned, this is very important because that is what they live on. Again, the problem of herdsmen and insecurity is largely a Northern problem. And I need someone to tell me that it is not political. It is being motivated by those who want to blackmail the country and the North. It is political because those people who are holding very important positions have been taking money and doing nothing about it. Also, the military leadership, which is equally Northern, has been largely bankrupt. So, if the Northerners say they have been shortchanged, who shortchanged them? It is neither here nor there.
Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State recently made a statement calling for abolition of power rotation in favour of competence. At this stage of Nigeria’s democracy, do you still see the need for power shift?
First and foremost, that is a matter of personal opinion. To the best of my knowledge, APC does not have zoning or rotation as a principle enshrined in its constitution. If they have problem of zoning or rotation in APC, it is because of lack of political courage. You are not bound by what is not put in your constitution. Even if it is written in their constitution, it is not written in the constitution of Nigeria. I had always opposed zoning or rotation before it even became a policy for one of the parties because I believed it was going to be counterproductive. Whatever zoning or rotation is meant to resolve, it hasn’t done so. If a system does not solve your problem, then change it. As far as I am concerned, it is based on primordial sentiments. Normally, in a rational country with responsible elite, you allow people to make a choice based on what they expect in terms of progress and not because you come from certain region or believe in certain religion. However, I don’t see power rotation being jettisoned until we are serious about the nation itself. I have said it before, zoning or rotation was what destroyed former Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia is an example of how not to run a country using rotational arrangement because it has not worked.