Former Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf has said the National Assembly is embarking on a fruitless journey of constitution amendment. In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the professor of medicine dismissed the North Central People’s Forum as a featherweight. According to him, their decision to have an identity distinct from the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) was all about 2023 election.
There is hardly any part of the country where people sleep with both eyes closed now and as a result, former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently warned that Nigeria was heading towards a failed state, attributing the country’s problems to leadership. Do you agree with him?
Former President Obasanjo knows a lot that I do not know by the nature of his office, so wherever the likes of him opens his mouth to talk, we should listen and the leadership should also listen. For me, just like every other citizen in the country, there are lots of issues. We have insecurity, we have economy, we have fuel, we have tariff; there are lots of challenges that we Nigerians are all worried about regardless of where you come from.
President Obasanjo is privy to a lot of information and intelligence that you and I are not privy to. The words of elders are the words of wisdom; wisemen hear and get wiser. It is not everything that Obasanjo or any critic of government says that the government should dismiss and say ‘you are our enemy.’ Your critics sometime are your best friends. We all Nigerians are worried about the state of the nation, and we all remain prayerful.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) recently seemed to have suffered a loyalty fatigue, as another group, North Central People’s Forum (NCPF), emerged. What do you say to this?
Arewa, by definition is the North. All these permutations are towards 2023; I’m not this, I’m no more that, is just about 2023. The voter is the final decider of who is going to be who, but the biggest final of all finals is God Almighty. People are just doing their permutations towards 2023. In Arewa, the ordinary people are not worried about all these groupings, the only people that represent us are those that we voted for and that day is coming and that is why all these people are scheming for – we are North Central, we are North this and North that; we are South this and we are South that. These are all politicians trying to do their thing. We are not worried, the ordinary citizens don’t even know who they are; the ordinary citizens don’t even know Arewa Consultative Assembly, IPOB, Oduduwa; all they know is that they have their voters cards and they are waiting for that day, all these are for the elites and they don’t know and care about the ordinary people.
But these groups have a way of molding people’s opinion or influencing them
It is the only people who live in the city. How many people in the village watch AIT, Channels TV, etc? They are just talking and operating in the cities. The ordinary man is the final arbiter.
Yes, the more associations the better; the association of this and that; Arewa this, North Central this, and that, you are this and that. I lived in the United States for a long time, and when I left Nigeria, there was no South-South this, Southeast this, North central, Southwest that, Arewa this and that, etc, it was when I came back that I began to hear of these permutations of the political class and elites who want to be the warlords in their settings, but Nigeria is one and it will remain one. All these groupings and associations will not shake this country.
You said when you left Nigeria for the US all these groupings or associations were not there, and by the time you came back you started hearing about them, what could have led to their formations?
It is nothing but the selfishness of the political elites. What is the difference between Southeast and Southwest; what is the difference between Northwest and North Central, etc? When I came back they said you are Northwest, North this and that.
These people want to balkanise Nigeria for their own selfish interest; it has nothing to do with the ordinary man. The aspiration of the ordinary Igbo man in Nnewi is the same as the aspiration of ordinary Hausa Fulani in Talata Mafar or the Yoruba man in Ogbomoso; they want a decent life, they want to be able to live in security, they want to be able to send their children to school, they want to be able to eat three times a day and have shelter. Their needs and aspirations are the same. The ordinary people will be fighting themselves, but Chukwuma, Mohammed and Bolaji on top are united, but the ordinary people will be fighting because they feel they are divided, all this has to stop. The elites and the political ruling class are the problems of Nigeria and not the ordinary people. We are just breaking Nigeria into pieces for our own selfish interest.
When the North Central People’s Forum broke away from ACF, some political pundits said the monolithic North has been rested; do you share in that sentiment?
We are to be educating our people on both sides of the Niger. So the Southwest is monolithic, that is why you hear some people talk of Yoruba nation. The Southeast is more monolithic than the Southwest because it is Igbo and Christian, but in the Southwest there are Christians and Muslims. So diversity is in the South-South and the North. The Southeast and the Southwest do not know diversity because the Southwest is Yoruba, while the Southeast is Igbo and that is why you hear Yoruba say Yoruba nation and the Southeast talks about Igbo presidency. You never hear of anybody in the North talks of Hausa or Fulani presidency. In Kaduna Sate alone, there are 54 ethnic groups. So, we in the North and our brothers in the South-South are the ones that know diversity. Igbo in the Southeast don’t know diversity because they are the same people and attend the same church and in the Southwest, there are only Yoruba people. So diversity in Nigeria resides in the North and in the South-South. Southeast and Southwest need to learn and embrace diversity more and stop talking about the Yoruba nation, Oduduwa, Biafra, Igbo nation. It is only one nation that we know of, which is Nigeria.
The people in Arewa, the whole of the North, do you think we are sweating that the North Central has broken away, no, we are not at all and nobody is talking about that. These are just groupings of politicians wanting their part of the pie. All my primary school, I went to Catholic school in Sokoto, in Zaria and in Ilorin, and my family was the only Muslim family and 99 percent of the population was Igbo after the war in that primary school. So, we know diversity. Igbo have lived in my part of the country, all villages. I have Igbo friends all over the world. All these balkanizations is nothing but craftiness of our political class for their own benefits. The poor man in Nnewi is as poor as the poor man in Kankara in Katsina; their aspirations are the same. We need leaders. The current crop of leaders we are having are doing nothing but dividing the country. We need leaders that will bring us back together as before, and not these ones that are just breaking this country into pieces.
The National Assembly has started another round of constitution amendment, what are your expectations and how do you like the new constitution to look?
It is just a waste of time like many things that they do. They have been doing this in every Assembly. They did that in the 7TH and they did the same in the 8th and they want to spend a billion to do this. It is a waste of time and they know it. There are documents about the review of the constitution, they have them there. Every Assembly that comes wants to do it and at the end nothing will happen. So they should stop wasting people’s money and time; they should stop deceiving us and stop deceiving themselves. They are not going to do the right thing and they know it.
The Northern Elders have told them this; there are people who are very articulate, Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed, the secretary spoke about this, that there are documents .This our constitution is not perfect, American constitution has been there for almost two hundred years, yet it is not perfect and it needs to be reviewed so often.
There are issues; constitution is like a building, you go in and you need to fix this and that. This constitution was brought to us by soldiers, and they never tried it and we have tried it for 20 years, we have seen the faults and seen where we need to fix. There are a lot of places that need fixing, but you have to have a consensus; you have to bring everybody together and you have to be honest and sincere about it. The politicians and the Assembly are not honest and they are not sincere; they are not consulting widely. You want to have a public forum where everybody should bring his documents, and then expect them to bring their documents, and like they did the last time and nothing happened. They just want to go and spend the one billion naira allocated to it and nothing will happen. They are not serious about it, they know it. It is a waste of time and money.
When you talked about everybody coming together, it’s like some people talking about sovereign national conference or conference of ethnic nationalities
This ethnic thing annoys me. If you are talking about ethnic, in the Southeast, you bring only one ethnic group, Igbo; in the Southwest, you bring only one, Yoruba. What of South-South? I told you in Kaduna alone there are 54 ethnic groups. So 54 ethnic groups will come and there is no state in the whole 19 states of the North that you have only one spoken language. In Southeast, it is purely Igbo, in Southwest, it is only Yoruba. In the whole of the 19 states of the North, there is no state that is only one language. In Sokoto State, there are Fulani that cannot speak Hausa, their children learn Hausa when they go to school, so also in Kano, Jigawa. All of the states in the North are full of multi ethnicities. So if the Southwest or the Southeast says it is ethnic nationalities and comes with one, we in the North will come with hundreds of ethnic nationalities. Everybody wants his own, nobody is thinking of Nigeria. Unless people stop talking of this ethnic nonsense and start talking of Nigeria, we would go nowhere.
How then do we go about it to get a constitution that is better than what we have now?
It is to accept that we have failed as a people and to accept that what we are doing is wrong. You know it, all the politicians know it. Everybody has to be involved. We should get involved, we are their masters, we voted them in and we will vote them out if they don’t what we want. The electorate in the North, I don’t know what it is like in the Southeast, Southwest and South-South, value their voters cards and they know their power. You know they brought President Buhari, in spite of the fact that he did not have money and didn’t have the supports of big interest groups, they stayed on the line, rain and sunshine to vote him in. They know the power of their voters cards, they are more powerful than you think. If voters do the right thing and vote credible leadership, we would not have this problem everywhere. In every state, people are saying that we want president, it is not the president that takes care of primary schools in your states, but it is the local government; it is not the president that takes care of the hospital in your state, it is not the president that will take Almajirai off the streets, it is not the president that will fix your infrastructure, it is the governors. Every state must hold its governor responsible and must elect credible leaders. The governors are more important than the president to the day-to-day lives of their people. People should stand and elect credible leaders from the local government to Aso Rock.