Elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai has carpeted those groups and individuals seeking self- determination as well as those agitating for the creation of Biafra and Oduduwa Republic.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the 96-year-old founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) described the Oduduwa Republic and Biafra agitators as irritants, even as he insisted that the debate about true and fiscal federalism is absolute nonsense.
Nigeria is troubled on many fronts: – Boko Haram in the North-East, bandits in the Northwest, herders- farmers clashes in most states, kidnapping, armed robbery and other crimes. What gave rise to these?
It is poverty occasioned by unemployment brought about by lack of programmes by the rulers.
Are you satisfied with the manner the government is handling the insecurity in the country?
No, no. I made a recommendation that the government should hold a meeting of experienced security operators – retired military, police, and other security agencies. When this large number of experienced people comes together, they will be able to develop some ideas on how to tackle all the security problems. But if the government feels that they alone have the solution to the problem, they will always be in trouble.
Some people are suggesting granting amnesty to the bandits as a way of halting their criminal activities. Do you agree with that?
Remember that the late President Yar’Adua was advised to speak to the Niger Delta militants. He appointed a minister who made recommendations, which were accepted by both the president and the militants. Then, a meeting took place. Then through the process of the meeting, the militants made their points, and the president accepted parts of their points, like giving them jobs, giving them scholarship overseas for studies, giving them some allowances, etc. He implemented it, and we don’t hear any war by the militants. Get a national meeting of people experienced in security issues to discuss these insecurity problems and come up with ideas. They will definitely give some leeway to government on how to tackle the problem and solve it. Two heads are better than one and ten are better nine.
When you talk of amnesty, it is only an aspect of the problem. If you are going to talk of amnesty, it has happened before with the Niger Delta militants. It was part of the recommendation; not just one item. If you gather the security experts, they will make a number of recommendations and from there the government chooses the ones that will solve the problems and then the conditions will be put to the bandits and if they accept, then the government goes into action.
Besides the security challenges, there are also the Biafra and Oduduwa Republic agitators. Some groups in the South-South have given the international oil companies notice to vacate the region. What does all this portend for the country?
These separatist agitators by whatever name they are called are irritants. Anybody, who doesn’t want to stay in Nigeria or who doesn’t want Nigeria as it is, is free to bring his own ideas or alternatives. Nobody has proffered alternatives to Nigeria. It is simple to make complaints, but what is the way out? People should come up with solutions. When you break up Nigeria, it is the same Nigerians that will retire into some units, and that will not solve the problem. If you know the reality or the background of the problem, then you see how you to solve it. Doctors will diagnose your problem and find out the type of disease you are suffering from and prescribe the medicine that will make you better. I hope there will be more Nigerians who proffer solutions to Nigerian problems than complaining. Complaining is not a positive thing.
How do we arrive at solutions to all these complaints?
I told you right from the beginning that it is poverty, unemployment and what have you. I will tell you my own little thinking. By the time this government assumed office, if they had come up with a programme of power; because the biggest problem in Nigeria which brought about all these is lack of electricity power, which is supposed to jump start the growth of small, medium and large industries. Now we are talking of power in a locality, when you provide modular power, either at local government level, a state level, at zonal level, people will create industries ranging from small to big ones left, right and centre and that will create employment for unemployed people. Employment will bring income to the unemployed and then they begin to attend to their various needs, and then their problems will begin to be solved bit by bit until they are solved fully. We have a country where you can grow any type of crop, and if we have a very good agriculture programme, we will be able to engage millions of people overnight because agriculture is the biggest avenue of engaging the largest number of people. It is a question of a programme by the government and all these programmes will help them. We have our previous National Development Plans, if we can take them and look at the ones we have not tackled and which one we have tackled and we didn’t succeed, gradually we will be sorting out our problems and all these problems will disappear because people are attacking others and robbing them of their things because they don’t have money. Have you seen anybody who is gainfully employed and still engaged in banditry? Most of the bandits are unemployed and if you can get them employment, they stop banditry. There is a lot we can do in this country about this problem; but we have to put heads together.
Talking about putting heads together, some people hold the view that most of the country’s problem will be solved if we restructure the country to true federalism, fiscal federalism, as we had in the First Republic?
There is nothing like true federalism. I attended a seminar way back in 1956 at the University College, Ibadan. It was a seminar on ‘Federalism’. Experts on constitutional federalism all over the world were invited. The record is there. All of them said there was no instance where two constitutions were similar. Every federal constitution is unique. There is nothing like true federalism. Every federalism is true, and it is done according to the constitution of the country where it is adopted.
So, all this talk of fiscal federalism and true federalism is nonsense. Nobody ever produced a paper to say what they are. Because of lack of what to say, some people pick it as a slogan and spread it all over the place and the younger people who didn’t know the problem will pick it and begin to talk about it. There is nothing called true federalism because every federalism is true federalism to the people that adopted the system.
Nigeria federalism is true to our people. We started with three regions and then an additional region, the Mid West. Then Gowon created 12 states and people said it was not enough and agitated for more and we went to 19 and 21 until we are now 36. Now they are saying we should go back to three regions. I hope when we go back to three regions people will stop agitating for more states. South-East and South-South should all be merged as one region, the entire South-West should merge as one region and the entire North becomes one region. The condition should be that once we go there, it is the end of agitations for more regions or states.
What they suggest is that even if the states are the federating units, that the centre is over-concentrated with power. They want the way it was in the First Republic where most of the items on the Exclusive List are moved to the Concurrent List?
Like what in the Exclusive List?
Education, Police, Prison, etc.
Education in the First Republic wasn’t exclusive. Police is excusive, but education is not, as you have state universities and federal universities. You have state colleges as well as federal colleges.
If education is not on the Exclusive List, why are states running the educational system, the curricular, etc based on federal government directives?
Who stopped them from changing the system and adopting theirs? Each state has its own legislature as well as executive council. Each state has elected governors, whose functions are defined by the constitution. However, you cannot exclude the federal government from any sector, but you can expand and allow state to participate in it. Definitely, you cannot deny the federal government because it is the government.
On the police, we started with the Native Authority Police in the North, State Police in the West, and people cried against it and I was a victim way back in 1953. Because of the way the local police was being run, everybody was crying. The military at the time of Gowon decided to merge the police to have a single police for Nigeria.
Those who are asking for Regional or State Police are only looking for an opportunity to recruit their party members. The day you create state or local police is the day you end democracy in Nigeria because they will recruit their party members into the police and they will not allow any opposition to exist. We have seen it in practical terms today. No opposition can win election conducted by a State Electoral Commission. Tell me where opposition party won majority in local government election conducted by state electoral commission. The moment you create a state or local government police, this is what is going to happen. Everybody will be force to belong to the party in power in the state. How many policemen did we have when we had three or four regions? What was the revenue allocated to policing at that time? How many policemen do we have now in the country? What is the percentage of the revenue that you are now allocating to policing in Nigeria? Our problem is how to increase the number of policemen in Nigeria. We are not increasing the number of policemen corresponding with the number of problems of security in the country. I will never support State Police or Local Government Police because that will be the end of democracy in Nigeria. I want democracy; there is no system of government in the world today that is accepted to the people of the world other than democracy. Anything that will erode it is a taboo and we shouldn’t attempt that. State police will kill democracy in Nigeria or any country that adopted it. Don’t let us kill democracy because without it we cannot develop.
Still on federalism, during the First Republic, each region produced and gave the centre. But now every state produces and sends to the centre and the centre dishes out to them. At that time the revenue allocation formulae was based on the Raisman Commission which stipulated 50 per cent to the producing region and 50 per cent to the centre. That is part of the restructuring they are talking about.
It was the time the centre was not producing anything. Now the bulk of the national revenue is coming through the centre because of oil. This is the reason you get from the centre, but that doesn’t stop all this huge amount of money the states are spending on building houses and so on. If they had used it in developing agriculture; if they had devoted them to small-scale industries, it would have been a different thing altogether. Go to every state, check their budget, see how much is spent to run the office of the governor, the office of the secretary to the government, commissioners, permanent secretaries and bureaucracy. Records show that bureaucracy in Nigeria consumes about 70 per cent of our revenue and they are only left with 30 per cent. In those times they are talking about, it was not the case. Now the main revenue is oil and everybody is thinking of how to get his own share of the oil. The federal government before didn’t have much money as it is getting today. We have two or three major sources of revenue – oil and tax. Now, all of them you have 13 per cent derivation. From the money you collected from oil, you give 13 per cent to the states generating the oil. How many states that are taking 13 per cent are using it to generate employment for the people? What they do is to build big mansion; they are not addressing problem of unemployment. This is what we need.
President Buhari, before he jetted out on Tuesday, directed the security chiefs to identify where the bandits are and go after them. Why is it that the security chiefs claim not to know where the bandits are, but somebody like Sheikh Gumi knows where they are and have met with them?
Go to Buhari media advisers and ask them this question. I have nothing to do with the government; I’m a layman like you. I’m not a government man and I have nothing to do with the government, so I cannot answer this question. You have to direct this question to the government.
Or to Sheikh Gumi himself?
Gumi was invited.
Was he invited or maybe he took the initiative as his own way of finding solutions to the problem?
He was invited. Are you not reading the papers? He was invited by the governor and they decided on where and where to go and he provided security and he went and met the people and so on and so forth. He was invited.
It was Zamfara State that he first of all went?
Yes. He was received by the governor. He didn’t go there on his own. They provided transportation, security for him, accommodation, etc. You better find out.
2023 is fast approaching, and the tempo of the debate over where the presidency should come from is high. Some argue that power should remain in the North; the Southerners say it must rotate to the South. In the South, the South-East says, if there is equity, justice and fair play. As one of the few remaining titans of the Nigeria project, what is your position on this thorny issue?
We have a multi-party system in this country. The APC zoned the presidency to the North, now they say they are going to change it. When they decide where to zone it to, the PDP is not bound by that decision, so also other parties. Let them do it; it is their own business, but I will tell you nothing will change unless we change the whole system. The political parties we have in this country today are not committed to any programme. They hire intellectuals to write manifestoes for them. The manifestoes in their constitution didn’t emanate from the need of the people or the situation on the ground. In our days, we would appoint some members of our party, provide funds to them to go round the country and find out what were the problems confronting people; problems bedevilling the country. They would come back and itemise them. We would appoint people who would go through those programmes and make recommendations on how the party was going to tackle the programmes. We put that thinking into manifestoes to show that we know the problems and these are how we are going to solve them. None of the political parties that we have in this country went round the country or appointed people specifically to find out the problem in every part of the country and come up with a national policy, and how the party should tackle those problems. Nobody is doing it. Members of a party looking for power are looking for opportunity to make money. Look at people contesting election, look at their position before contesting election; go to their houses and see the type of cars they are driving. Then a year after the election, go to their houses, look at the cars they are now driving and their houses. Are they the same as before?
So, anywhere the presidency comes from is immaterial now?
Nothing will change unless the parties have programmes, not programmes that editors write in good English for them, but programmes after finding out what is bedevilling the country. Let them get experts to draw programmes on how to tackle the problems and solve them. In England or even America, President Biden during his electioneering campaigns, he identified problems and promised what he would do to solve them and that is what he is going about doing. We don’t do that in this country. In 2015, APC made three promises. One of them was to tackle insurgency in the country. Go and see how many of them the party has been able to solve within the period it has been in power for six years.