Elder statesman and former Minister of Education, Alhaji Dauda Birma, has said that the presidency can only move to the South if the region fights for it. In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the Sarkin Gabas Adamawa said political power is not given on a platter of gold.
In our brief discussion recently, you expressed concerns over the division in the country. Nigeria has not been as divided as it is now, not even during the civil war. Why this and how can we halt the division?
Over a period of time, people have invested certain hopes; what they thought were possible. We are divided, firstly, by region––North versus South––and secondly, we are again divided by religion. Religion has come in now and has become very deep.
The Southeast seems to be very bitter, and is criticising everybody. People at the grassroots are looking at the roles of the politicians and their body languages and they are taking their cue whether what is visible is reality or not.
You can see that the various elections have divided us and people have invested a lot of hope into what they believe was going to happen; and when what they believed didn’t happen they become so bitter and they cling to their hope whether that hope was based on reality or not.
There is a difference between reality and perfection; there is a difference between reality and assumption, which people are yet to understand. Because of the amount of money which is invested in our elections, because of the amount of money people have collected from politicians, they come out of the election believing that something irrational has happened, if they lose they say it has been rigged; if they lose they won’t want to say that they didn’t do what they were supposed to have done, they will blame the other side.
So, we have a problem now, blaming each other even for our own fault; living in denial even if we have not done enough, and that has taken us to where we are today. I repeat, we are more divided today than I ever perceived.
You noted the Southeast criticising everybody. There was this statement issued by a Southeast group. According to the statement, even when federal character is enshrined in the constitution, and we talk about fair play, equity, the zone has only one commissioner of police out of the 37 state commissioners of police. In the same way, all the five state directors of DSS, Civil Defence, NDLEA, none is from Southeast, which means when security issue of the region is discussed, no one from the zone will be there. If you were from the zone, how would you feel?
I was in the Federal Character Commission for five years before I became the Minister of Education. I went back to the Commission at the end of my ministerial appointment. The Commission has its guiding principles and if anybody breaks these principles you can take such person to court.
For instance, if the governors of the Southeast noticed that there is lop-sidedness to the disadvantage of the zone, either by themselves or by their privies, they can go to court because the federal character law is enshrined in the constitution, and it has guiding principle, which must be followed.
I cannot describe the nitt-gritty of this because you have just told me now; to describe what you cannot verify is very difficult. If anybody defies the federal character law, he can be prosecuted; there are punishments and sanctions for breaking the federal character law, which I know very much because I was the chairman of the committee that wrote the federal character principles.
Not only in the distribution of posts, even in the distribution of amenities, the federal character law is applicable. So, if anybody breaks the federal character law, I cannot defend the person; it is indefensible, as the person has made himself liable for prosecution.
Is it not part of the reasons for the agitation in the region, are you saying, if they feel there is a breach of the federal character law, they can go to court?
As soon as there is a breach of the federal character law, they can go to court. Look at the number of lawyers there, and look at the various governments; there are independent governors in the Southeast, if I were a friend to one of them and they complain as you have done, the first thing I would say is that get your lawyers, go to court, because there is no excuse for what is happening.
Just because something is happening to your advantage or just something is happening to the disadvantage of somebody you don’t like, you shouldn’t condone it.
Where should the presidency reside in 2023?
My view about 2023 is that we have become accustomed to the rotation of power between the North and the South; left to me, I will say that the South should set their home in order and rally round a political party that is going to nominate somebody from the South to succeed President Buhari. You know politics is such that nobody gives you anything on a platter of gold, you have to work for it and you have to earn it. For people to say that they are entitled to something doesn’t make political sense, therefore, the South should come together and agree with each other and promote a candidate they would support, and it is incumbent on the North on the basis of fair play to support that person, but if they fail to do that, we are not going to leave a vacuum, somebody from the North has to occupy that post.
If you go back to the time when Abiola became a candidate, he went all over Nigeria–East, West, Central, North, everywhere–and he won an election that was annulled, which precipitated a crisis. We realised that we could not afford such crisis, and conceding to his area assuaged it. Therefore, much as I believe that there shouldn’t be micro-zoning, the Southeast is entitled, but the South must fight for it.
If the South doesn’t fight for it, what happens?
If they don’t fight for it, nobody will travel several hundreds of kilometre from the North to the South to tell them, ‘we are very sorry, tell us who to give the power.’ No, somebody has to work for it; somebody has to identify himself. People must come round somebody.
For instance, if I were from the Southeast, if I were a politician operating there, I will take somebody like former Senate President, Ken Nnamani to be supported because there are certain people whose behaviour, whose track record, whose performance in the past endeared them to people who are even not from their area, but there must be a consensus.
The Southeast must build a consensus; they must talk with the Southwest, South-South. If you are operating politics from the position of antagonism, it doesn’t get you anywhere.
Whether we like it or not, 2023 will come, and when it comes it is up for the person who is prepared for it to take advantage of it. Anybody who is not prepared would be left shouting, screaming and kicking and Nigeria will have to be going even if a crisis is precipitated.
So, for anybody to say that it is my entitlement and let people come and kneel before me and give it to me, that would not happen. People must fight for what they want and they must earn what they get in a contest in which several people are interested.
Some northern leaders still insist that power must remain in the North in 2023, what is your view on this?
For a politician to make a case in favour of his zone is quite normal, do you expect a politician to say that his zone is not entitled?
But you have just said so. According to you, going by equity, fair play, the North is not entitled to 2023?
No, no, no. I didn’t say they are not entitled. I said we should respect the principle of zoning of the presidency from the North to the South and vice versa. If the South is not ready, I will not tell the North not to look for it.
For instance, if you remember, when Obasanjo was being nominated in 1999, people like Abubakar Rimi went and contested even though they were told that Northerners shouldn’t contest, he didn’t mind and contested, heavens didn’t fall, and Obasanjo won. Therefore, for a politician to do his thing, let him do his thing, but let us work for a common consensus and people should work for what they expect is their entitlement.
You expressed grave concern over the level of division in the country; the agitations, cries and hues across the land. Based on the inability to restructure the country to allow each zone to develop at its pace in line with the First Republic, some elder statesmen have called for the breakup of the country so that each region can go home and enjoy peace. What is your position on this?
Those who say that Nigeria should be broken, from 1966 till date, there are people who have advocated all manners, but for every action, there is a reaction.
If Nigerians come together and say they want to break up, so be it; if Nigerians say everybody should go to his own corner, so be it. There are people who have exaggerated notion of their area and if somebody or people have arrogated to themselves that which is not in line with reality, then when the crisis comes people will see what they can get and what they cannot get.
For instance, there has always been brinkmanship in Nigeria; people go to the brink, but when they go to the brink, they shout that if you leave them there they would go over there, but they have never gone off, they come back from the brink.
I believe that people blackmail each other, they threaten each other and they indicate that without them there would be no Nigeria, but every single square inch of Nigeria is Nigeria. Those who are prepared to live together can live together. We have seen people broken up, and we have seen people broken up come back to live together.
We should be careful. Look at Sudan; South Sudan has broken up, from the day they broke up till today they are still at war. I don’t think we should inflict that on ourselves.