Elder statesman and former Minister for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr Mohammed Abba Gana, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari’s new Chief of Staff, Prof Ibrahim Gambari to help in uniting the country. He described Gambari as a top class technocrat whose wealth of experience would help, in many ways, to move the country forward. He spoke of various issues in this interview.
A major talking point in Nigeria today is the recent appointment of Prof Gambari as the new Chief of Staff; what is your reaction to that?
I would say that since 1999, there is no top appointment which has received universal goodwill and recommendation from all sections of Nigeria like this one. This is because of Prof Gambari’s outstanding qualities, character and qualifications. He has a lot of cognate experience on the job and was once External Affairs Minister under Gen Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State. He served at the United Nations as Under Secretary. He has handled various top special assignments for Nigeria and the world at large. In all those assignments, he distinguished himself. He is a top class inter- national civil servant. In all the assignments he has handled, he had never been found wanting. He recorded achievements to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. And you also know his background; he is the son of the former Emir of Ilorin; he is the immediate junior brother of the present Emir of Ilorin. He has not been in active politics and it is a plus for him because he is a very top class technocrat. Without political biases of any kind, he will approach issues from the point of justice and fairness.
Considering the negative impression people had about the former Chief of Staff, late Abba Kyari, what advice would you give to Prof Gambari?
I advise him strongly to unite Nigerians from his wealth of experience by being fair to all. He should try to encourage an all inclusive government for all Nigerians. The country is now so divided and he should reconcile Nigerians. The All Progressives Congress (APC) will tell Nigerians to go the right and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will urge the people to go to the left. So, we are so divided and Prof Gambari should help in uniting Nigerians. There is currently no unity in the coun- try. It has been difficult to get a national consensus on anything in the last five years because of too much partisanship of politicians in the government of President Buhari. Once partisanship is reduced and the country is united, we can effectively face the Coronavirus pandemic and other challenges facing the country. Apart from the current challenge of Coronavirus, we have the crises of the economy, insecurity, banditry, Boko Haram insurgency, kidnapping and so on.
With many battles going on, on many fronts such as extreme poverty, widespread unemployment, hunger, increasing income inequality, lots of internal insecurity crisis, covid-19 pandemic etc., this is the time we urgently need politics without bitterness in our dear country, Nigeria.
This is because extreme and sustained or prolonged partisanship with bitterness as witnessed from 2015 to date has done a lot of harm to our body politic and is a major impediment to getting national consensus on many important matters awaiting resolution.
We cannot get solutions to our crises when we debate or discuss in an atmosphere of hatred, anger, hostilities, bitterness, widespread poverty, hunger and unemployment with zero love, tolerance, patience and compassion.
This is the reason why lots of people across the country welcome this timely appointment of Prof Gambari to the important position of the Chief of Staff to President Buhari.
Because of his well known competence and suitable background, a lot of people expect and believe that Gambari is capable of assisting President Buhari to achieve politics and governance without bitterness and without extreme partisanship and thereby uniting the country.
This is what is lacking or absent for quite a long time in our dear country, Nigeria, resulting in unnecessary and unwarranted hostilities, division and anger across the country.
And you know when people are acting in anger, Satan the devil would come join them to incite them, to urge them to commit more and more crime and cause more and more trouble. And imagine several millions of people acting in anger or hatred.
How do you see the handling of the Coronavirus pandemic by the APC-led administration?
The pandemic has exposed the social sector and the gover- nance of this country especially in education and health sector. These two critical sectors have been neglected for so long in this country. The budget allocation to education and health is about the lowest in the country and it should not be so. The situ- ation had not always been so. In the 60s and 70s, most of the African countries source their professors and other academicians from Nigeria. But along the line, we ignored the social and health sectors; the Corona virus came and we were not ready. We are telling people the importance of washing their hands but we do not even have water to drink in many local governments. Even in some state capitals, we do not have good drinking water. In many places, both water and electricity have become essential commodities. Most of the diseases that people suffer are water borne. Potable water is essential to achieving basic hygiene. How many Nigerians can afford to bathe twice a day? We need basic hygiene to fight Coronavirus. We need to spend highly in the education and health sectors.
Management of the Almajirai population has become a major problem in Nigeria; what is the best way to handle the threat from these vulnerable people?
The Almajirai issue is part of the neglect of the social sector. During the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, he built a lot of schools to modernize the Almajirai system. He spent billions of Naira to rehabilitate the Almajirai children. But where are the schools now? Are they being used? There are so many Islamic countries in the world that have populations of over 200 million people. In Pakistan, they are 99 percent Muslims and they do not have the problem. If you educate the people, they will ensure good governance; if you educate the people, they would be in a better frame of mind to choose the right leaders; if you educate the people, they will be better placed to take right decisions and so on. So, the neglect of the social sector for decades is the cause of the Almajirai problem. The political class is not organizing the society properly for the good of all. We need to organize our country for the good of all. That is why I so much welcome the appointment of Prof Gambari because he will bring his wealth of experience to bear on the country. I expect him to reduce partisanship in the polity because the country currently is so divided.
The oil sector is the mainstay of our economy and the price of the product has crashed with the 2020 budget being adjusted to reflect the ugly reality; how do you feel about the development?
Germany was defeated in the Second World War and they came out of it and the country is one of the strongest in the world today. Japan was defeated in the Second World War and they are one of the strongest nations in the world today. So, Nigeria can as well survive any situation she finds herself and even become stronger. But to emerge stronger, the leadership must do the right thing; they must try to unite the country and run an inclusive government. I am sure that if we have an honest leader that carries everybody along, you will be surprised the level of achievements that will be recorded in a very short time. So, let us pray to God to give us good leaders in this country. But we do not seem to care about a proper leadership recruitment process at all. Look at the kind of elections that we conduct in this country. In 2011, so many people died during the general elections. In every election in Nigeria, people are killed and some are maimed. Election malpractice has become our habit and I tell you, election malpractice is worse than armed robbery. If you rig election and become governor, Senator or even president, it is worse than becoming an armed robber. We need to get our leadership recruitment process right. We must have good crite- ria that would qualify one to go for an elective office. We need to worry about who becomes our leaders or leaders. The truth is that in every local government in Nigeria, there are good people who can lead well but are usually prevented because of the faulty leadership recruitment process. We should have a system that only those good enough should have the opportunity of leading the nation.