Mallam Mohammed Lawal, President Muhammadu Buhari’s political ally since 2003, has called on Bishop Matthew Kukah to dump pulpit and join politics to demonstrate good governance. Lawal was reacting to an interview, where the Catholic clergy, said ‘Nigeria’s unity is hopeless and under threat.’
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the two time board member of NNPC, said rotation of presidency by the ruling party, APC, still stands.
Are you not worried over the way Nigeria is going, with insecurity everywhere?
I‘m very much concerned, and at my age about 60, despite all we are passing through, I see a lot of hope for Nigeria and her people. Nigeria is a country with a lot of potential when compared to other countries not only in Africa, but the world over.
The problem we have in this country is that our elites and the people that have benefited a lot from this country from what our founding fathers did are determined to see that if they don’t have it their way; if they don’t take what they want the way they want it, the whole country can go to hell. However, if this category of people wake up today and talk in one direction, in one voice towards peace, harmony and development, you will see that the common folks will follow suit and continue to work in harmony and peace towards uniting the country and charting the way for development. But, our leaders are not helping matters. A typical example is what happened with the former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, an Oxford scholar brandishing falsehood that can set this country aflame. He started recanting when the DSS and the police apprehended and started interrogating him. The elites should know that if trouble starts in this country, they would be consumed before other people, and they would suffer most because they have the assets, they have their children trained in the best schools and they would want them to come back to take the best of offices and the best of opportunities. So, they should bury their hatchets and work in harmony for development.
The truth of the matter is that the political leadership in particular right from the president down to the governors and legislators both at the federal and state levels since this political dispensation, from my personal assessment starting with Obasanjo, who emerged the president after a long period of military administration, is below average. Look at what happened on our roads during Obasanjo’s regime, when Tony Anenih was the Works minister; are we talking about what transpired in the power sector where $16 billion was spent and there is nothing on ground to show for it.
Coming to Yar’Adua, unfortunately he passed away. As a governor of Katsina State, he was focused, very disciplined. As a president, he rolled back many of the things that Obasanjo did that were unhealthy, unconstitutional. We noticed some semblance of seriousness, but he was cut short by death.
Coming to Jonathan, it was a low period of this country, looking at what happened with Dasuki, the then National Security Adviser; looking at the nonchalance of the presidency with the Boko Haram issues, and how it escalated to the point of the sect taking over two third of the local governments in Borno State. Look at the brigandage and the thievery in the oil and gas sector – the Dizeani, the Aluko, the Omokiri issues, etc. It was a terribly embarrassing situation for one of the seven crude oil producing nations lacking capacity to refine its products since during Obasanjo. Look at the hemorrhage activities in the repairing the refineries of this country, which escalated into the period of Jonathan. Look at the issue of militants in the Niger Delta and even across the country, there is banditry.
Coming to the present regime of Buhari, I’m getting tired of making reference to previous administrations, but the fact of the matter is that we met what we meet in terms of corruption, in terms of what Jonathan did, what Obasanjo did. We are all students of history, and we cannot say that we have to bury all that we saw and forget about it. We learn from the past; doctors even learn from the dead, and we have to learn from the living in order to make progress. So, when Buhari came, there was nothing, this country was squandered; it was a bazaar at the CBN, the security was at its lowest ebb and people are saying that it was Buhari who caused all the problems of banditry, Boko Haram. These things take time, they don’ just happen in a day.
The brigandage, the wrath, is so much that if you put the whole resources of this country on security alone, it will not go anywhere because what is happening has been happening for a long time. Efforts were made, but the governments were not serious, look at what happened during the arms purchase saga. You gave $1 billion, not Naira to purchase arms, the money was stolen. Look at what was discovered from the security top guns – Bade in the Air Force, his colleagues in the military. These things will have consequences on what the inheritor will do to address the negative aspect of what they put the country into.
Buhari inherited a very difficult country. There was nothing in the treasury and during previous regimes, money was coming like the regime of Gen Gowon that we didn’t know even what to do with the money, so we were on a spending spree with the money. When Buhari came, the single commodity that ensures the liquidity of this country foreign and domestic is crude oil. Previous regimes were selling crude more than $100 per barrel, but when Buhari came it went as low as $20. During this COVID-19, it is as if nobody wanted to touch our oil, our fleets loaded with oil are in the seas, and there are no buyers and yet we are managing to pay salaries and meeting other financial obligations that will keep the country afloat, and investing heavily on agriculture. We closed borders and opposition started shouting, and we have seen the impact of closing the border even though the price of food is high because we cannot produce enough, but the good thing about it is that the farmers are now benefitting because they are being encouraged to produce more because there is the demand. We have seen recently most of the products; rice, tomatoes ketchup, etc that we were importing from China and other Asian countries were adulterated with attendant health challenges on our people, and we have seen that eating locally produced food items is healthy, more beneficial to our people. Look at the education sector, the infrastructures at all levels, are rotten, that is also what we met on the ground.
Coming to the governors, they govern as if they don’t have pity on their people they govern. You can count about two of these governors from each geo political zone that are truly putting honest efforts to see that their people are lifted from their present position of poverty.
When you come to legislators, you see a senator earning N30 million or close to that in a month; the House of Representatives members earning between N20 million and N25 million in a month in a country where the minimum salary is about N30,000 and some state governors are not paying it. Even these states that say they cannot pay the minimum wage, not that they don’t have money to pay but, because the governors want to divert the money to unnecessary projects that have no bearing on the economic well being of the people and the state – building airport in a state like Zamfara, my state, when we have an airport in Sokoto, and airport in Kaduna. Between the state capital, Kaduna and Sokoto, it is about three to four hours, but still the governors will like to build airports in Zamfara, Kebbi, where no airline can afford to break even if they are to operate as it may be needed.
There are growing agitations for restructuring or breakup of this country. Before it was Biafra and now Oduduwa and more may still come. What do these suggest?
Even in the North here, don’t think that the Northerners don’t have their own opinion on what is happening in Nigeria. I still go back to the agitators, the people you see on the streets demonstrating and calling for restructuring or breakup of this country, there are some people playing the music behind, and these are the elites. They feel, as I said earlier, if they don’t get what they want in terms of power or in terms of economic benefits, which they think is their right or their own share and it must be given to them . If not, the only way to get it is to carve their empire for themselves. But it is not so.
If it is something that is possible to be done immediately, the IPOB calling for restructuring or breakup, if power now goes to Igbo, they won’t ask for restructuring or breakup of Nigeria because they know the president of Igbo extraction can only flourish to their own satisfaction when Nigeria is one. The Oduduwa guys say they want breakup, the truth of the matter is that they only understand that when they are in the saddle of power, especially, the presidency that they can drive Nigeria of their dream the way they think it should go. We hope that their ideas of governance, or the idea of how to govern Nigeria or how Nigeria should be is good and for the benefit of all, but I assure you and I can swear by anything you want me to, if the Yoruba that are calling for this agitation and breakup happen to be in the saddle of power in 2023, they will change the song to ‘One Nigeria’, and they will do it the way they think it will work. We hope they have the mindset and the capacity to unite this country, and also move the country on the path of progress and development as they are claiming to be the messiah of that and the person that will be in the saddle is somebody that has the capacity and the knowledge to lead.
The reason the drumbeat is upbeat now is because 2023 is coming, and it is all about the battle for power. I have said it before and I repeat it, Buhari is not a saint; he cannot claim to be saint, he has his own weakness, no human being is perfect. So, the question is you either cooperate or work together in order to lead this country out of the quagmire we are trying to box ourselves into.
The narratives coming from the mouths of the elites can lead this country to be boxed in a corner that we may find it very difficult to come out, and we are the people that will put ourselves into that position and when trouble will commence, only God knows what may come to save us from the situation. We are talking and behaving in a way that we are going to lead ourselves into a very difficult situation that we may find it extremely difficult to come out from. The solution is simple, if these elites, like I said earlier, can start talking positive and behaving positive by coming together and chart course and the ways, Nigerian masses are very easy going; we easily take our leaders in confidence and work with them, but when they start working and talking people into a situation that is unbearable, the consequences are very frightening. I’m worried and concerned. If the elites think they can continue blackmailing the country and intimidating and leading us to where it may be difficult for us to come out, they are also Nigerians; let’s see how it goes.
In an interview we have, Bishop Matthew Kukah, described Nigeria’s unity as hopeless and under threat. Do you share in his opinion?
Let me say with all modesty that it is Kukah that is hopeless. Nigeria’s unity can be under threat and it is because of what they do, the elites, as I said. If he says the reverse and people like him say the reverse, it will not be like that and the unity will not be under threat as you are seeing now and as you are getting scared about this country. They caused all the problems.
Kukah has said it in other fora; he is a man of God. He is a politician in cassock. Let him derobe and come into the political arena. He is beginning to get political darts from people like us because we know that we are no longer allowing him to hide under the religious robes and throw jabs at politicians, to people who mean well for this country. If he has problem with anybody or it is a religious faith against another religious faith, they should sort it out in that domain.
I know politics is leadership, I know with our own set up, you cannot grab power without going into politics and it is power that changes all these things, so let him go into politics, get the power and do his own; let us see his own method, let us see his own input. But for him to stay behind religious pulpit and throw jabs at politicians and other political leadership can no longer be tolerated. We do not hate him but we are getting to a point where we are putting ourselves into a very difficult corner. We will regret the trouble that may come in the long run as a result of our attitudes, particularly the attitude of our elites.
Bishop Kukah also described Boko Haram as an enterprise because you can see money being pumped without much result. Do you agree with him on this?
I share his view on that. It is an enterprise that has been very lucrative, which started during his mentor, Obasanjo, who he identifies as his greatest political benefactor. He was the official chaplain of Obasanjo among the all unofficial chaplains. Even when Obasanjo wanted to do something about his marriage with his late wife (may her soul rest in peace), it was Kukah who officiated that. That Boko Haram security budget turned out to be an ATM for the security apparatus and most likely even the clergy, we don’t know them. So, it started during that time. And we can see what happened during Jonathan. Kukah was closely associated with Jonathan also.
Well, even during Buhari some people are milking the security thing quite alright, but then there is a category of people probably enjoying the Boko Haram largesse as ATM. The other category of people are shouting and talking loud now. Truly, maybe the security agencies, the military are the ones enjoying. Maybe, Kukah and other categories are the ones pushed out of the largesse and they are shouting and talking. There may be others that are pushed outside and they are keeping quiet and are no longer enjoying the largesse.
So, I share his opinion. Let us be bold. Who are the people, it has started during his big political mentor, Obasanjo, and they enjoyed it, all of them.
Citizens accuse the president of being insensitive by increasing the pump price of petrol, what is your view on this?
If we are to be fair to each other; fair to the country and understand the economic situation globally and the country, we will know that there is no alternative to it. I agree that it is not the best time to do that. For long the president has tarried so much on that. I’m an advocate of that; for long, I have been advocating that. It makes economic sense; it calls for economic discipline within the government, public sector and private sector and the populace at large. Nobody has brought any alternative that is viable and feasible now.
The president said it that we were going to increase the price of fuel, which means great economic hardship. Honestly speaking, you know the figures that were bandied around as subsidy. If we want it to continue, depression will come within months. Depression is like the whole country going into a deep black hole. That would have been the case if we didn’t remove the subsidy.
There is no alternative to what the president has done; the alternative is plunging the country into depression and deep hole. The consequences of that are grave as there will be no more salaries. If we can’t pay salaries to workers, you can imagine the ripple effects, as there will be no markets, no school fees, and no more to even pay electricity bill and so there will be blackout. It will be very scary if salaries are not paid, the government doesn’t have money to pay contractors, it cannot meet its obligations and even to conduct elections, and money will not be in circulation. Armed robbery and other violent crimes will increase because there is no money and they will start killing people they thought have money. There is no alternative, even though it is very painful. I’m not an economist, but a realist. The economists will show us better the picture of the consequences of leaving the subsidy; we can’t afford it. People opposed to it if they take over the government by any means let them bring back the subsidy and see what will happen. It is not possible.
Politics of 2023 is taking the centre stage. Some argue that there should be rotation of the presidency; others say power stays where it is, while others say it is open. What is your view on this?
We pray and hope that we are alive and healthy to see 2023; some of us may participate in it, but these politicians are very clever and the polity is heating up. They know it very well that Nigeria must exist before you become the president. They will find a way to lead us into 2023 and they know they should be Nigerians before they can do what they wanted to do. For those looking for restructuring let them get the power first and work towards restructuring. For those looking for dissolution, can they do that without getting the power? Let them get the power and work for the dissolution they want. For those that are looking for unity, harmony and they put in place super structure that can ensure good governance that will see this country into what Malaysia is now from what it was; South Korea from where it was to what it is now; Singapore from what it was to what it is now, they will want a united country so that they can demonstrate their gifts and prove that they are the ones we are missing. Politicians are clever, don’t mind them.
Everybody has his own peculiarity; the same with every country, every people. We have our own peculiarity and we know what suits us. Honestly speaking, what is in place is either rotation or merit. We are doing rotation in order to address some issues. Are we saying now that those issues are no longer relevant? No. So we continue with rotation. Have we reached the stage where those issues that made us agree to rotate are no more relevant and we discard it? My position is that we have not solved all the problems that made rotation to appear juicy and good. So, for the meantime, let us continue with it, but still, while we are rotating we should rotate with the best among us.