Former Minister of Science and Technology, Major-General Sam Momah (rtd) on July 15, 2020 granted Sunday Sun an exclusive interview before he passed on last week. The interview was shortly after he celebrated his 77th birthday and launched his book entitled: ‘Why we Must Restructure Nigeria.’
The former military administrator said that Nigeria has not learnt any lesson from the Nigeria-Biafra civil war.
He also advised that the issue of Biafra be relaxed for the sake of peace and development of the Southeast region.
How do you feel at 77?
I feel grateful. God has been so kind to me that I am alive because for us who are Christians, we believe that the biblical age is 70. So, when you go above that, one should feel happy. But looking at the way things are going in Nigeria, I believe that it leaves much to be desired. Therefore, one has mixed feelings seeing things get worse and worse. It is not the best. Happiness should be total in the sense that the environment has to reflect it. One cannot be happy for himself alone; we should be happy when people around us are happy. So, that gives me a bit of mixed feelings concerning Nigeria.
What other mixed feelings do you have about Nigeria?
There are numerous. One is that they have not learnt from the civil war. We fought a civil war that is supposed to prod us into unity. We are supposed to learn from the war and learn to live together peacefully. But you would find out that the civil war has divided us even more than made us learn from it. Most countries who go through civil war eventually learnt from it and try to build up from the misgivings of the past. But for us, that has not been the case. I would like to appeal that the General Gowon’s slogan of no victor, no vanquished, should be practicalised. We should forget the past because if we live in the past we will not confront the future. And, it is important that should take root. Then, again, another misgiving is the activities of Boko Haram. Because what they do to Nigerians is pathetic and inhuman. It is sad that we live in a country where people commit heinous crimes and government goes back to forgive them and it is wished aside for whatever reason. That is also something that is sad. If we do not punish those who offend or infringe on the constitution, it brings more crimes. We must try to correct. Also, the downturn of the economy, must be solved. Because when you look at the number of people who are unemployed you can usher in peace that is why we find cases of kidnapping, armed robbery and other offenses, taking place. That kind of situation leaves much to be desired. Nigeria is one country people look up to see the emergence of the black race in the comity of nations. For long, the black race has been downtrodden; we are just like surplus entity and inconsequential. But I think the time has come for us to accept the challenge and try to rebuild, and see how we can be relevant in the comity of nations. Otherwise, anybody who has a progressive mind will not be happy with what is going on in Nigeria today. I think this is why my book on restructuring has to come for me to air my views.
There is a misconception about restructuring. Most Nigerians think that restructuring would lead to the disintegration of the country. What’s your take?
It is not so. In fact, restructuring is supposed to strengthen Nigeria. It is unfortunate that most people think that restructuring is resource control. They think it would lead to disintegration and so on. It is how to have a robust response to climate change agreement. Because of climate change, we are having a lot of natural disaster like flood, tsunami, bush burning, and desertification, confronting the world. Scientists met and found out that the extremity of weather is caused by radical climate change. So, on December 12, 2015, 195 countries, including Nigeria met in Paris, and an agreement was signed that in 2030, countries should change from fossil fuel to renewable energy. Renewable in the sense that we have to use clean energy, and it is only when you use electricity, solar energy, water energy biomass and so on. Fossil fuel means crude oil which means that by 2030 our crude oil would be irrelevant. It would be a liability. We just have 10 years to look for an alternative to oil because Saudi Arabia that is the leader of OPEC has had three conferences discussing on how they can convert their crude oil to diversify their economy. But Nigeria, till today has been silent on that. The book is saying that we should restructure in a way that we will have enough capital because if you want to shift from oil you need money to do that. You will have to convert raw materials to finished goods and export. For instance, we need to have a power sector that is functional. If you look at the budget, 50 per cent is for recurrent expenditure, 30 per cent is for debt and 20 per cent is for capital expenditure. So, there is no way, you can diversify our economy with 20 per cent. I am saying that we should diversify so that 50 per cent can go into capital, while 20 per cent should go for recurrent expenditure. For that to be achieved, we need to shrink our over bloated manpower from the local government to states and Federal Government. That is why the book is suggesting that local government should be scrapped; we should have less number of states because the more states the more overhead. States have houses of assembly, executive councils, director generals heading agencies and so on. But if we reduce the number of states, then we can cut down all these and manage effectively.
If you’re suggesting massive reduction of states, what would happen to the millions of Nigerians working in those states, and how many states should we have?
The thing is that government will not just lay off people. Government will plan on how to channel them into productive machinery. The agricultural sector should be expanded. Let people go into the cottage industry and other enterprises. It is not what you desire of what you need that is important. Right now we have situations where some state governors have not paid salaries for six to nine months. We cannot continue like this indefinitely. It is neither you confront the problem frontally or you continue to have the same problem. We should have a planned disengagement of people. With restructuring, governors will be put to work. I see the governors as major catalysts that we are not using in developing our economy. What they do every month is to come to Abuja and share money. But once they know that they have to look inwards to generate income then, they will sit up because very soon there will be no money to share. The revenue from oil is declining every month and in the next five years crude oil will be sold at N15 per barrel or less. So, it is not just being the ostrich hiding your head in the sand. We have to tackle these problems. In my book, I recommended what I call Reorganization Organisation of Nigeria (RON), whereby all Nigerian languages should be used to tell citizens what is happening. Because if you carry the people along and let them know the problems, it will adjust when you proffer solutions to problems. But right now, the masses do not know what is happening because the government is giving the impression that all is well when those of us who are reading in between the lines know that all is not well. I do not want Nigeria to degenerate into the position of Somalia or Sudan. Sudan fought its civil war for over 46 years. For over 200 million people to be in a chaotic situation for over five decades, you know what it means. We must try to plan not to get to that dangerous stage. It is not that I want the reduction of states, but it is what we have to do. It is the bitter truth. The state will be converted to provinces. Five or six provinces can be supervised by a state so that at the end we may have six states or zones. Recall that during the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, the 2014 national conference recommended the creation of eight additional states meaning if implemented, we will have 54 Provinces. I am saying provinces because you will not need for houses of assembly. The states are taking all the money with little to show for what laws are they providing when they are not generating any income? Right now the states are dormant with state houses of assembly doing nothing. Then you have the executive council for the states which would not be required in the province. You will just have provincial council made up of technocrats who will run it and coordinated by states, with that, over N5 trillion would be saved. You can then use the money to fix basic infrastructure like railway, power and refineries system are working. So, restructuring entails all these changes. The changes will be done at once. It is the real change, not the theoretical change.
You retired from the Army in 1999. What solution would you proffer to enable us curb insurgency given the fact that the situation has overwhelmed the President?
I have said in my book that the President is only in charge of Aso Villa. He is not in touch with what is happening in Maiduguri, Enugu or Port Harcourt. The governors are the ones governing. It is what the governors do that determine what the country becomes. They have the land, manpower and capital. The states should be empowered so that many things that are in the Exclusive List will now be in the Concurrent List, to help. It is the responsibility of governors to tackle insecurity. Security is about intelligence and information sharing, like who is coming, where are they coming from and so on. The states should have community policing, but governors must be empowered to know things happening around them. What they are doing now is the use of the Army like police force which is wrong. If you have an effective police force that will first halt it, that would be good. In 2007, the government set up the Nigeria Identity Management Commission, up till now only about 40 million Nigerians have ID card. What is stopping every Nigerian carrying ID card? We should deal with the causes not the effects of insecurity. Another problem is the lack of coordination among the security organs and unemployment.
Ahead of 2023, different zones have come out to argue why it is their turn to produce the president. Should we be bothered about that now?
I am not a politician, therefore, I cannot tell you which zone should produce the next president. The politicians know how they play their game. There is no need to wish for something that is irrelevant to the structures on the ground. If PDP decides to zone it to the North or South, fine. If APC decides to zone to the East or West, fine. My own contribution to that has no effect. That is where we go wrong everyday. We must allow the wishes of the people to prevail. What I want is a Nigerian that will change things for the better regardless of zone.
But are you satisfied with the performance of this government?
I cannot answer that because it is a relative issue. It is not something I will start talking to the press. I am not a politician. Even as a Nigerian, I have to respect my Head of State. I do not wash dirty linen in the public. Performance is a relative issue. This is not the forum to start passing buck because Nigeria is a very complex country. Until you sit there, that is when you will know. Until I became a minister, I did not know the problems of Nigeria. Do you know that Nigerians will not even allow you to work. Everyday I had over 40 to 50 people waiting to see me and when you do not see them it is a problem, when you see them, they compound the problem. So, I never used to work because I spent time seeing people. The pressure was too much. It is at 8:00p.m that I start doing the real government work. Some will come to invite the minster to commission or inaugurate a conference or group or building. They beg, cajole and even bribe just for the minister to put up an appearance. And that is how Nigerians are killing the leadership. So, let’s not categorize good and bad performance. Buhari is a little bit of the bureaucracy of governance. Let us look at the local governments. What use are the 774 local government areas? Nothing.
As a former Minister of Science and Technology, what can we do to boost ICT sector in Nigeria?
This is a very good question. In my book I defined technology as the inexhaustible oil well for humanity. Nigeria must tap into it if we want to survive. And when you talk of technology, it starts from our educational system. If you have a system that admission into schools are not done on merit, that educational system will be faulty and skewed. We must have a system that promotes merit. The Federal Character should be reviewed that it will not affect the educational system.
Corruption is another scourge hurting the country’s economy. Even the EFCC is not clean. How do we address the problem?
For somebody to be corrupt it means the system allowed it. Because if one person is corrupt it would have been exposed long time ago; 95 per cent of everybody in EFCC is rotten. I want to see a country where elected officials are giving targets to perform.
What’s your take on the constant agitation for the actualization of Biafra?
I want to use this opportunity to appeal to the young ones who are in IPOB. I had the brunt of the civil war and I know what it means to fight a war. I lost a brother, sister and brother-in-law. I believe everybody lost something. We must try to be responsible. We cannot repeat that tragedy again. I am appealing to them to have a peaceful way of expressing their grievances so that we do not lose. Already, the war has brought eastern region decade behind every other part if this country, and we cannot continue to wallow in that kind of decay. So, they should down their arms and be civil while expressing their anger. I understand their grievances. We cannot solve it through violence. In Spain, the Catalonians have been in this kind of battle for over 40 years, they have not gotten anywhere. We cannot be wasting our time for decades, while others zones are building their states and region. We are creating problems.
Are you saying the agitation for Biafra should be relaxed?
Of course. On January 15, 1970, Biafra issue was laid to rest. I am saying that it should rest in peace. Let’s talk about how to bring up Nigeria and grow as a nation. Let’s talk about how to build the Eastern Region. These are things that we can do. I believe that this negative way is destructive. They are wasting the time they should have used to go school, improve themselves and grow the economy rather doing certain things that are selfish. We should be talking about restructuring, meritocracy and religious freedom.
Some people will argue that they are fighting to have a share of the proverbial national cake and enjoy the dividends of democratic. Isn’t that a worthy battle?
Don’t we have a democracy? I am not saying somebody from the East cannot be president. It has to be done politically. We must try and do the necessary alignments to convince others to support us. We do not decree who becomes the next president. This mentality of sharing is affecting us. The fact that you are an Igbo man does not mean thing will change because you can come and line up only Igbo. It is a sentimental thing. If it should be put in the constitution that it should be rotated so be it. It is done in Switzerland.
Don’t it bother you that amongst the security chiefs none is from the East?
You don’t solve a problem by being violence. Everybody has one problem or the other. We need an extraordinary conference to address the problem. We also need Constitution to address this problem.