Former Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf has said that rotation of political offices is undemocratic. In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow transplantation, described as ‘nonsense’ the clamour for restructuring. He gave insights into the depth of corruption in the states and the National Assembly. Usman who is President Buhari’s kinsman in Katsina says Nigeria lacks functional leadership at the moment. A teaser:“I was a chief executive of an agency, all these members of the NASS know that, they come to you to shake you down, that is what they mean by ‘oversight function’, they only want the people’s money and they would frighten you with taking you to the floor of the House if you refuse to give them money. I have been through this and they now that from the top to the bottom.”
How do you describe what is happening in the country at the moment?
It is very depressing for everybody in this country today; killings everywhere and it calls for serious concerns by the leadership and the locals. The leadership is supposed to pay attention to what is happening.
You said the situation in the country is ‘depressing’. What do you mean and how then do we solve the problems?
What we do everyday is to call soldiers to control problem when it gets worse; insecurity is always local, Niger Delta issue is Niger Delta, Boko Haram is local, banditry is local. Unless we address local problems, soldiers cannot solve insecurity for us. Soldiers didn’t solve insecurity problem in Niger Delta, soldiers will not solve Boko Haram problem, and they will not solve banditry problem, soldiers are just one part of the solution.
How do we do it in this instance; is it to involve the local vigilantes, like the Civilian JTF in the Northeast, but we have seen they have not gone far in solving the problem?
We have to involve everybody and make them understand why you have this problem. The government understood why there was Niger Delta agitation because there was inherent injustice; you were getting oil from people and polluting their land. So, President Umaru Yar’Adua had to sit, understand and listen. What is happening in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is a shame, after all that the nation went through and Yar’Adua did, and yet, some people are cheating their own people. So, insecurity cannot be solved by soldiers coming from Abuja, it is a local problem; soldiers are just there to put off the flame. There should be discussions and mobilization of the whole nation about what the problems are. There has to be an understanding of why is this thing happening in Zamfara, why is this thing happening in Katsina, why is it happening in Maiduguri. Soldiers coming from Abuja just blow hot air and leave you with the problem. So, the government has to mobilise the whole country to understand what the problem is and sit and discuss with all the stakeholders. Soldiers are important; they are there to protect the population. But this bandits are just a ragtag army, not trained, never been to any school, and yet they are defeating a nation of a whole army, police; all they have is rusty Ak-47, they don’t have tanks, APC, rocket propelled grenades. They come into villages on motorcycles from the forests; they didn’t come from outside countries, they are Nigerians, and Buratai said over 90 per cent of them are Nigerians, and they are in the forest; so unless you have boot in the forest and boot on the ground, this thing will not end. Nigerian soldiers and police will not enter those forests and live there. So, you have to have people locally. The fundamental problem people of this country have to face is that we do not have government; do not have control of the authority. If you don’t have control of your forests then you are just there waiting for them to come and catch you. Government must have full control of its forests; just as they have Forest Rangers in East Africa, South Africa, Asia and even the United States, you must develop forest rangers that are lightly armed. We have to police our forests; you have no business being in the forests if you don’t have licence. All our Fulani people living in the forests are supposed to be licenced, and there should be forest guards / forest rangers from local communities, but not from Lagos, Kano or any other place. You need to employ local community lightly armed to police the forests, and this thing will go away. Those coming from Abuja are there to put out the fire, like fire brigade and they will go back and leave the people.
Look at the casualties of soldiers and officers killed. Not long ago, soldiers and officers were ambushed in Zamfara, and 18 were killed – a major, a captain and others. The same thing in Damboa, Borno State, the same thing in Katsina; they were ambushed.
Insurgency or banditry does not survive without local support; so we have local collaborators, local informants. The intelligence needs to work; all the millions they are getting, where did they keep the money, where did they spend the money? Fulani man in the forest doesn’t build a house, he doesn’t buy house in Dubai or Abuja, he doesn’t buy cars, so where do they keep the money; what do they use the money for; the cattle they rustle, where do they sell them, you don’t see them slaughtering cattle; do they sell them in the market, where; in the town, where? They come into towns and villages on hundreds of motorcycles, where did they buy these motorcycles, where did they get the fuel to power these machines, who are their informants, who buy them drugs? All these are what intelligence agencies should find out for us and work with the local people. Soldiers are doing their best, and when things get out of hands they come and put off the fire and leave; they cannot be there forever, it is the local people that will secure that place. The federal government needs to think seriously of creating forest rangers from the local people that will have full control of the forests and they will be lightly armed, just as they are in East Africa, South Africa. If not, this thing will continue forever and people will continue to be killed.
Against the backdrop of these problems bedevilling the country, former Kaduna State governor, Balarabe Musa proposed that the country should be divided into six regions as federating units and devolution of powers to make the centre weak. What is your position on this?
All these talks about restructuring, confederation; do you think they have impact in the life of the common man? It is just politicians who want to carve their own empires. When we were growing up, there were only 12 states in the federation, and then the minority tribes said it was the majority that was oppressing them; then another minority oppressing the minority of the minorities. All these divisions get us nowhere. Look at Niger Delta, look at what is happening in the NDDC, money we never knew existed, trillions, billions of Naira to clean up their land, build schools for their children, develop their area, was looted. There has never been any agency, any ministry that has been allocated this so much money. Niger Delta, a very small area with a small population, with that kind of money could be like Dubai, but it is their own people that are stealing the money.
All these divisions- restructuring etc. are just nonsense, it is your own people that will cheat you. We need a strong centre, a leader that will shake things up; things are falling apart in this country. Look at what is happening in NDDC, EFCC, NSITF, corruption everywhere; billions of naira meant for people is stolen. Are you going to be surprised if you have bandits, Boko Haram, Niger Delta militants when the real money meant for ordinary people to build school, provide water, hospitals is stolen by their own people, and you are saying we need restructuring, confederation, local governments. These are just nonsense and we all know that. It is disgraceful and embarrassing, no country goes through this and people go scot free, but nothing will happen to them because this is Nigeria.
What Balarabe meant is that the 36 states structure should fuse into six regions as we had before and power devolved to these regions as federating units
He should forget it; people will never go back to where things were before. How much do members of the National Assembly get? You heard what Akpabio said on national television that 60 per cent of the NDDC contracts were given to members of the National Assembly. If there is anything to do, it is to reduce the number of senators and that of the House of Representatives and reduce the cost of running governance; it is too costly.
I was a chief executive of an agency, all these members of the NASS know that, they come to you to shake you down, that is what they mean by ‘oversight function’, they only want the people’s money and they would frighten you with taking you to the floor of the House if you refuse to give them money. I have been through this and they now that from the top to the bottom. We should stop deceiving ourselves; we should reduce the cost of governance. There is so much corruption and there is no leadership in this country, none. We are just groping in the dark. It is sad.
If you say there is no leadership in the country, how then do we get the right leadership?
We must all be involved. You, the media, your responsibility is to ask such questions; we citizens, our responsibility is to hold our leaders accountable and not always agreeing that whatever His Excellency did was right. No, it is not always right, it is our money, and it is people that voted him. We must all be involved to hold the leadership accountable, that is the only way democracy thrives, when everybody is involved, not just the participants but also the spectators. All the governors what they end up doing after their two terms is just to pillage treasury and give themselves huge pension and then go to the senate; to do what? After eight years, there is nothing to show. Do you know what their idea of development is? It is investing in cement and concrete, and I see federal government also doing that. They will build flyovers, roundabouts, stadium, and airports. When we were growing up, leaders then invested in us, human beings, not roads. Only a few of all the governors are older than me, all of them benefitted from the government. We were sent to schools, our parents didn’t pay penny. Did we have those flyovers then, did we have 36 states, and did we have airports? Now, every governor wants to build stadium, every governor wants to build flyover when there are millions of children out of school; when there are Almajirai going around, when there is no water in the state capital, when the clinics are in terrible shape, when the schools are in terrible shape and you expect peace in this country. There will never be peace when there is injustice and this exactly is what is happening all over the country from Adamawa to Zamfara, from Abia to Bayelsa. This is what all the governors do. Security vote that gives them billions is shared and they are surprised that there is no security in their places. Look at Kogi, it cannot pay salaries; look at Osun, this man that was made minister of Interior, he wasn’t paying salaries and was not paying people their pension after spending 35 years of their lives working. You are carting away their money, these governors have no conscience, and many of them do not stay in their state capitals; they are running their governments remotely either in Abuja or anywhere else in the world.
Honestly, the centre is not as important as people think. In your state, vote very good governor; he will be the one that will make a difference in your life, not the president. The president is not the one who will build your school, who will drill borehole, who will get Almajirai off the street; it is the governors. What did they do with the money allocated to states to give people basic necessities, security, employment, etc.?
Nigerians need to elect responsible leaders, not bunch of irresponsible people to pillage our treasury. Restructuring or what, it is just politicians wanting their own pie. Look at Niger Delta, Ken Sarowiwa was killed because of agitation for his people, he must be turning in his grave because of what the people are doing over what he died for. They will say, the money is in the North, but when they gave you NDDC to develop the area, and you pocketed the money. Let us be honest with ourselves, we have irresponsible leaders throughout the country and people need to speak out and rise against them.
Against what you have just said that people say that the money is in the North, there is this view by some people that Fulani own Nigeria, as a Fulani do you share in this sentiment?
Which part of Nigeria do they own? Igbo people are richer than Fulani people; Yoruba people are also richer than Fulani people. There are more Igbo and Yoruba in federal civil service than Fulani. Does any Fulani own a bank, does any Fulani own a media house. Does any Fulani own a hotel; all the hotels in Abuja and land are owned by the Igbo; is Abuja Igbo land? Can Fulani own in the East what Igbo own in the North? No. If you have never been to the North, come and see the landed properties that the Igbo have, which the Fulani do not have and cannot have in Igbo land.
Whoever that says Fulani man owns Nigeria, let him come and say how. Fulani man occupies Aso Rock, and so what? An Igbo man should come and occupy Aso Rock and give the Fulani all the material wealth he has in the North. That is nonsense. Igbo own all the hotels, they own banks, and Yoruba own the newspapers and banks, what do the Fulani own. It is just sentimental nonsense.
The recent statement by Miyetti Allah cattle breeders to set up its own security outfit in all 36 states to protect their people across the country has raised some concerns. What is your take on this?
Igbo people don’t really understand the association, and they give it prominence more than what it is. Miyetti Allah in Fulfulde means ‘Thank God’ and they are just protecting their cattle rearers. Cattle rearers never come to the cities, yet every community should protect itself since the federal government has failed; there are no enough police, no enough soldiers, and people are being killed all over. Yes, we may get to that level where communities have to take responsibility for their own security. There has just to be a legal framework for that; we don’t have enough soldiers, we don’t have enough police to protect people. You say you are protecting Igbo, you are protecting the Fulani, Amotekun is protecting the Yoruba, and it is because of lack of central leadership, which is why you have all this nonsense.
Igbo people especially those living in the Southeast that have never been to the North think of Miyetti Allah as a problem, but people in the North don’t think IPOB, MASSOB as problem, they are just agitators. There is so much misconception about Nigeria. There are more Igbo in the North than there are Hausa Fulani in the East. More Igbo have made a good decent living in the North than Northerners have made in the Southeast, so also Yoruba. There is a lot of misconception going around and people need to be educated and that is why we are talking. Igbo own all the hotels in Abuja, you go to Kano, you go to Sokoto and other places in the North, Igbo are there doing businesses for a long time, and nobody begrudges them.
Couldn’t the fear be about the clashes between the herdsmen and farmers across the country, which has spilled so much blood?
This has been going on for sometime. There are more bandits, there are more killings in the North; the entire North is now insecure. Do you have Boko Haram in the Southeast, do you have mass burial, mass graves there, and you don’t. The South doesn’t even know what insecurity is, we are going through that, but we don’t hear anything from South, that is people empathising with people here on what they are going through, and you are talking of Miyetti Allah. Boko Haram has been fighting and killing people for the past eleven years, and they are still killing; we are losing people, we are losing soldiers. We are talking to educate people in the South because banditry, insecurity is in the North; you don’t have mass graves anywhere in the South; you don’t have Boko Haram, you don’t know what insecurity is; we are living it, but we don’t hear anything positive from the Southeast or the Southwest, but they are talking of Miyetti Allah.
You are talking of restructuring, you want to be president in 2023, but people are dying daily; people are in IDP camps. When we watch television, all we see is this mega theft in NDDC. We have a president, we are being killed, APC is imploding, Oshiomhole is doing this, etc., and these are not our problem. Our problem is to save our life. This is the North, where we have our son in the Villa, and yet we are being killed, and people are talking of Miyetti Allah. Igbo have done very well in the North more than Northerners have done in the Southeast; Igbo own financially, economically more than North, so what are we talking about that Fulani own everything; what do they own? You can have the Villa and give us all you have in the North.
The Igbo argue that what you have said they own came as result of individual drive, they are talking about the commonwealth of the country
Yea, look at collective wealth, we have made nonsense of it; I have been very angry about this insecurity, but doubly angry about the heist in the Niger Delta. No sane human being will see the injustice done to the Niger Delta people with oil spill will see this thing and say we are on the right track. This is not done by Fulani people; it is done by Ijaw people, Niger Delta people, pillaging their people. This is what Ken Sarowiwa died for and we are talking of Miyetti Allah. Is it Miyetti Allah that stole all those trillions? It is very painful.
Southern leaders are insisting that power rotate back to the South in 2023. What is your position on rotation of presidency?
What is democracy? It is the ordinary people that vote, you and I don’t even stand in the sun waiting to vote. The hope of the ordinary people is that the person I vote will make a difference in my life, but often times, it doesn’t.
Here am I, a Fulani man will go and tell somebody in Nnewi, ‘this time around, you must vote this man.’ So, he doesn’t have his own mind to vote whoever he wants. Democracy is you voting for who you want to vote for. Anything outside this is fraud. A Taraba man wants to be president, how will that improve the lives of his people? It doesn’t; we have seen that many times. We have had presidents from the North, we have had one from Ijaw and we have had Yoruba people, go and see if the lives of their people improved; it has not improved and it will not improve.
This thing, rotation, rotation really annoys me; you are rotating from where to where? They just want to rotate into their pockets, you and I know it, the educated people know it; it is the ordinary masses they are deceiving. You stand for restructuring, you stand for rotation, this is nonsense and they know it. Anybody who wants to be a leader is free to do so, that is what democracy is; people have to vote for you. Rotation is undemocratic. From 2023 onward, people are tired and they are not going to accept this magomago ; people are wiser, they are tired of these lies, fraud, deceit every time. Our democracy has not served our people well. Very sad, it has only benefitted the few, NASS members, look at them, clowns.
How do we correct this?
This is what I tell people that the ordinary person has more power than he realises. He has the power to change the leadership; we cannot always wait and say, ‘because I don’t have money that is why I can’t do this or that’. No, you do have what it takes to make a change. You don’t want this leader, wait four years and be patient and get him out. That is what democracy is all about. Rotation, rotation, and how many times have we rotated. All these restructuring, rotation are big nonsense, not small nonsense.
You mentioned when you were chief executive of an agency, how members of the NASS were on your neck over money as oversight function, did you bulge?
They are not over sighting anything; they are only over sighting themselves. How can I bulge? They know me and I will never, and that is why I’m no more there. Look at the NDDC, the minister was saying, 60 per cent of the contracts were awarded to members of the NASS, and one of them was saying, ‘minister, it’s ok, it’s ok… put off you mic.’ It’s not okay, Nigerians need to know. The Speaker, Gbajabiamila said ‘I have given you 48 hours to name the members involved.’ That is the end of the matter. I know it , I was a chief executive, they are liars, who are they deceiving. I have been there, they would shake you, shake you, and when you refuse to give them, they come after you. Our democracy is really a huge joke. What is happening in Niger Delta will make you cry; there is no human being who would not agree that there was injustice to the Niger Delta; this is what Sarowiwa died for, and an agency created was by a Fulani man from Katsina, where I am from. He created the Ministry of Niger Delta and NDDC and now who is stealing whose money? Niger Delta people stealing their people’s money, and you are saying, ‘it’s ok, it’s ok,’ no, it’s not ok.