•Why Northern elite must listen to Emir Sanusi
By Olakunle Olafioye
The northern political elite has been under intense pressure in the recent weeks over allegation of under-performance. In this interview, Dr Abdul Jhalil Tafawa Balewa, a former presidential aspirant lends his voice to the need for the ruling elite in the region to redouble their efforts to reposition the region and bring it at par with the southern region of the country. Tafawa-Balewa, a medical practitioner and nuclear chemist also delves into the seeming frosty relationship between the executive and the legislature which is evident in the non-confirmation of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu; issues surrounding the president’s health among others.
Despite repeated assurances by the government in power to ease the suffering of the people, Nigerians have continued to groan under the current leadership. Do you see any quick exit from the current situation?
The chances of us having a quick exit is very slim, because we didn’t have a quick entry. The country degenerated very slowly with people not paying much attention. What didn’t help at all was the fact that oil prices went down so suddenly. We have an abundance of solid minerals and other things within the country, which we have not tried to explore properly or in large commercial quantities. So, we are not going to get out of it as quickly as we want to. But since Nigeria must exist and since Nigeria shall exist, we will get over it but it’s going to be very slow.
But how did we get to this situation?
It’s been over time. The degeneration of everything starts with a single unit. It’s like having a bad apple among a basket of apples. Other apples will soon begin to rot. We have over time had some form of corruption, which has now festered more recently to the very point where our country’s existence is threatened. It’s a shame.
What would you prescribe as panacea to the crisis rocking the country?
What we need will be a more active government. The Presidency should lead more vigorously. The ministries should have terms (focus) of what they need to do and what they need to bring to bear in the nation. Without that, our growth will continue to be at a snail’s speed. We have so many opportunities and so many things that God gave us but we need the right people to get it in a more progressive and productive way. The fight against corruption is very good. However, it needs to go in tandem with the fight to progress, the fight to produce. We’ve got the people that can add value to our raw minerals. We already have some of the things we need to add value to these things. In agriculture for instance, it isn’t that Nigeria does not produce enough. A few states in the country can supply food to the rest of the country.
We have one of the largest Gamma Irradiation facilities in the world in this country but somebody has been sitting on that since 2003. It’s supposed to be a major money earner for this country but like most things in Nigeria till now, nothing has come of it. It’s capable of adding N1.3 trillion annually to the economy but it has not produced one kobo, because we’ve engaged the most incompetent people. That facility alone can help in many ways either by creating water trap for our farmers (for dry season farming) or preserving what we produce now for sale or long enough to add value to, but it has continued to lie fallow because of nepotism. We decided to engage some well read but incompetent people to run it. This is just one example of how wasteful we are. We have a lot of young and trained people. However, they trained only in theory, they have not been able to put their training to work.
Our system of education does not allow them to do that. I have suggested many times that the NYSC scheme be overhauled. Instead of sending our graduates to teach in schools, because we want a homogeneous mixture of Nigerians, let them put whatever they learned into practical work and then they will generate money for themselves individually. One year is good enough to perform this experiment. It has worked very well in Israel; it can work for us too. The Kibutzim system can work here too.
The president’s health has been a major issue in the nation in the last few weeks. Speculation surrounding his health was further heightened by his absence at the last FEC meeting presided over by the VP. What does this portend for governance?
It portends well. The president was absent at the FEC meeting and Vice President Osinbajo, with the help of other people in the executive have been able to manage things progressively well. So, I think there should be no alarm.
You made reference to the anti-corruption war earlier. But in recent weeks, the EFCC has lost a number of corruption cases. And of late, the commission appears to take the blame for the controversy being generated by the Ikoyi mystery money for seeming lack of diligence in its operations. Do you think the commission has what it takes to diligently investigate corruption cases before proceeding on to prosecute suspects?
Absolutely, I think the commission is well equipped to handle corruption cases in Nigeria. I think it’s just the methodology that needs to change. They need to investigate the cases thoroughly with a fine toothcomb, school the lawyers very well before they go in. A suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty. To be able to prove that a suspect is guilty in Nigeria, you need overwhelming evidence, because you are working on two levels. You are working on public opinion and then you are working on legal opinion. Those are concurrent in Nigeria and I think they just need to be more diligent. They don’t need to rush to present their cases without total evidence.
The Emir of Kano recently chided the northern elite for not doing enough for the region. What’s your view on the Emir’s position?
The Emir of Kano is one of the few truthfully blunt humans that have ever walked the face of Nigeria. It’s true. One of the things that we need to do is to retool the educational system in the North. It’s impossible not to have western education in the North. You can see what is happening in the southern zones. Secondly, it will bring us to par with other Nigerians. There are so many leaders in the North that we just keep recycling. A large majority of them are very corrupt and they still want to come out in 2019. Nigerians and even the youths should be able to stand up and say, “No, you have ruined our future for too long.” We need people that know what to do to get us out of this morass. However, the mistake these corrupt leaders will be making again is that unknown to them, the youths have grown in number and in intelligence.
None of these people will send their own children out to be hooligans. They use other people’s children but these youths are now beginning to wake up. They know they have their strength in their voter cards. But they still need to be educated further and we will educate them against violence.
2019 is around the corner. With APC still struggling to impress Nigerians and PDP neck-deep in crisis, what alternative is available for Nigerians?
That’s a very difficult question, because Nigeria is a very dynamic country. Too many things happen quickly such that our news don’t even last three to four days. I just think we need to work towards a more solid Nigeria in 2019. What happens to APC and PDP will be very difficult to speculate this time. I think we should just focus on how to join hands together to get Nigeria out of the situation we find ourselves now.
You made an attempt to contest the last election. Are you still nursing ambition for 2019?
It depends. If I have the opportunity, I have a lot to offer my people. If the opportunity comes, why not? But I am not running after it. We have a president right now and his mandate is for eight years. If he wishes to use the eight years there is nothing anybody can do about it but if other circumstances prevail, why not?
One raging issue in the country is the failure of the Senate to confirm Magu, the Acting EFCC Chairman. But the VP recently said Magu does not need Senate’s confirmation. What is your take on this?
The president has the right to appoint some of his officers. However, the Senate on the other hand has its own responsibilities. But the type of disruptive coloration between the executive and the legislature is not helpful to governance. There are so many things the executive, the legislature and the judiciary need to focus on rather than the constant fight that we see among them.