Gyang Bere, Jos
Yahaya Kwande, is a former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Switzerland and a Northern Elder who represented the Queen of England as Senior Administrative Officer. He spoke on topical national issues and said it will be difficult for President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption to work in Nigeria system.
You served the colonial, military and civilian administrations in Nigeria. Today, you’re 90. How has life been?
Well, in my days then, anybody that was 30 or 35 years was considered to have come of age, most of our ministers at that time were seen as old men and particularly a person at 50. The fact that I am not just 50 years, I am 90; gave me cause to ask myself what has changed? The only thing that has changed in me as a 90 year-old man is, when I look at the mirror, I see that the handsome face of Yahaya Kwande is no more there but the body tells me that I am the same. This was what I discovered later, what you eat and what is in your heart; your relationship with human beings, brothers and sisters is what will keep you. This is because I have studied those that we were born together, age group, classmates at the primary school, classmates at secondary school; they have been my subject of study, relating them to myself. My driver came to me, I didn’t know he was the one, he was walking with the aid of a stick, not that he was sick, he just thought he was old and when he came in; I mentioned his name. What I am trying to tell you is that this question of age is just number, and it relates to even political and civil service.
We have been wasting people, we retire people after 30 years of service, it is then that they have mature; it is then that they want to give what they have learned. But in Nigeria, we have done a lot of damage to old people and to the country’s progress. We are not white people. If you look at an African who is 19 and a European, a white man of 19, you will almost lick the white man because he looks different. But just give them 10 years each, if you see the two of them together you will think the white man gave birth to the black man because he would have been so old
I am grateful to God that I was born a black man. I went with Obasanjo to Germany on Official tour; I was sitting on my chair, I didn’t know I was sitting with my classmate, he knew ahead that I was on the entourage and when they were planning sitting arrangement, he made sure that he sat beside me because when we were having a conversation, he mentioned my name, and I mentioned what we did with him in Oxford in 1962, he couldn’t believe it, but he was my age mate. So, I don’t like people discussing age in number as if it is everything in the world; you get mature in the brain and I feel very bad that today they refer to your type as the younger generation. You talk and say ‘we the younger generation,’ what have you done? We can talk about what you have done and compare to what the older people have done. So, to answer your question and not to take you far away from your question, I feel very happy that I am 90 years old. I have seen a lot, it is wonderful to live long and be healthy because you can live long and be sick. I can eat anything now but I eat in moderation, sometimes standing in my bedroom alone, I talk to God because if I look from nail to head, nothing disturbs me, then you start wondering and when you go out, somebody will say ‘look at this old man, he is not even like me,’ is that not? ‘He is sick, he can’t eat what you eat, and he can’t because when he looks at it, he vomits because he is not well.’ But I don’t have that kind of a challenge. I don’t want anybody to talk about number in years.
Nigeria is so divided today along religious, ethnic and regional lines, what is responsible for that and where did we miss the bond of unity as Nigerians?
It is a wonderful question that you have put across. I am lucky, during the First Republic I was already an Administrator in government representing the Queen of England. Because as a District officer, we were representing not our government but the Queen of England and that was the time, when I was posted to Kano as an Administrative Officer and we were advised, ‘don’t pull your shoes, don’t bend down to any Chief however high because no Emir, no Chief is higher than the Queen of England and the government of your country, and you are the representative of that government in that area.’ So, I find myself one day walking into the emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, the grandfather of the current emir with my shoes on but with the northern gown. There was a stir, ‘this man is a northerner he didn’t remove his shoes’ and it was a big drama but there was discipline. Nigerian citizens are very disciplined human being, we are the only one abusing ourselves that, ‘you know Nigeria, you know us Nigerian, you know what we can do but negatively’ because there is an order and that order can be executive, if you get it wrong they punish you, if you get it right, they praise you, we would have been different.
During those particularly colonial days we acted like British, you know British is the most disciplined nation, small like an Island but they are controlling the world, you see why they ruled the whole world before, that is the British empire, they are small but Nigerians were like that, very good and discipline. I remember when I was a Senior District Officer here, 6 O’clock, believe me a bicycle cannot pass without putting the light on, even if the sun is yet to set, this was because of the law and you will be arrested and charged if you don’t do that. After giving an example of the discipline of the first republic, then we moved into the second republic, where people were confused, as to act as was done in the first republic or join what they call progressives. They kept on progressing now we are not progressing, we have gone back. Somebody said unless we are back to square one and start all over again, Nigeria may never be back on track. I said something on the fight against corruption and they kept on repeating it on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) because they thought Buhari will cut my neck. They interviewed me at the time he was yet to constitute his cabinet and I said he can’t even do it (fight corruption). They asked again, and I said Buhari cannot and I said but he will try. Now one of the policemen in Aso Rock (Presidential Villa) rang me and sent me a text again to say that they have started talking about it. I told them you leave here to go to Abuja and the ordinary man, poor man, 20 of them in a small bus, you are shouting that you are the leader of anti-corruption crusade in the world and in your country, the driver that is sitting driving you; for every police check point he would bribe the police and somebody will take the bribe, he gives the bribe all through from Jos to Abuja; and you say you want to stop bribery in your country, every day you are lying.
You mean the anti-corruption fight of the president is not yielding results?
It’s nonsense, what result is it yielding if the ordinary man will not feel happy that his money is his money, and the taxi driver that manages to get some money to buy an old vehicle so that he will pick, N20, N20 on the road, only to share with somebody that is being paid and you are still shouting that you are stopping bribery and corruption because you recovered N10 billion from somebody that has kept it somewhere? Does the poor man care; does he know what is a billion? We heard about the billions but every day a clerk now…. I wouldn’t mention that. What bribery are you talking about that you are stopping?
Is there anything that the present crop of politicians can learn from the old ones?
I said don’t blame the officials; blame the ordinary Nigerians they are the corrupt people not the representatives. In someone’s village there might be a teacher, a very good teacher that is helping the community, he is their light. Then time comes he want to contest but there is no money but they manage to put him in, he is now member of the state Assembly or House of Representatives, or Senate, poor man. On the day he was sworn-in he comes back to now look into his own little hut that he has built, he will find 1000 people waiting to take their own with numerous complaint, ‘my wife is sick, my son cannot go to school,’ you don’t ask him where he will get the money from, you want him to go and sit on a minister that he is over sighting to ask for money to approve your budget? When he gets it, he goes into his village and distribute so that they will elect him again next time. Who is the corrupt person? Is it him or the man that is forcing him to go and steal? It was so clear, I was standing in one of the distribution points during the election, and they were saying ‘how much are we giving the Police? How much are we giving INEC? They were not doing it as if they were afraid. These are officials that were to do their job and even the government that will stop it is saying how much are we going to give, estimate this for that, estimate that for this and you say you are fighting corruption?
What can the Federal Government do to checkmate the spate of corruption in the country?
Reorientation and discipline is the sure way to go. If you and I now go out to take a taxi and you are the Police, somebody does something wrong, all he will do is to go down and be looking at you by your age, you can’t punish him, ‘sorry sir, I am sorry sir and you will say alright, don’t do it again.’ But by your action, you are the one spoiling Nigeria not him. We are disciplined, go to Makkah and see Nigerians, go to England and see Nigerians standing on the queue. One day I was at Oxford Street, the terrorists were on rampage then. I heard a bell and they warn us that a bomb was to blow, I turn round and I saw my Military Governor, Joseph Gomwalk, he was on the queue, you cannot jump over anybody to run. So, at least more people will be safe, you may be sacrificing yourself to save people, you don’t block the gate. Despite that danger, Nigerians were standing on the queue, Gomwalk was calling my name, Yahaya I went for shopping and he was there to shop too. Nigerians are very disciplined if the leaders too can be disciplined.