‘those calling for confab report implementation wasting their time’
Second Republic House of Representatives member and northern leader, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, has told those agitating for the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference to do their worst, as President Muhammadu Buhari would not succumb to their blackmail to act on the document.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, NOAH EBIJE and SOLA OJO, the former lawmaker said report of the conference set up by former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was dead on arrival, because it was put up in bad faith. He vowed that none of the recommendations would ever see the light of the day.
Recently, some of the Northern delegates to the 2014 confab including Mr. Bashiru Dalhatu, a Minister of Power and Steel in the Gen. Sani Abacha regime, Lt. Gen Jeremiah Useni; Ahmadu Ali; Ibrahim Mantu, asked President Muhammad u Buhari not to implement its recommendation. Why is this coming now?
I’m not sure they were speaking for all the delegates. That being the case, those individuals were entitled to speak their own opinion.
As far as I’m concerned, from the beginning of the conference to the end of it, there was what we called the Pan Northern Delegates Forum, and I was a member and there was nobody, who expressed a dissenting opinion on the stand of this forum. We didn’t agree with the confab, we didn’t agree with the idea behind it, we didn’t agree with the composition of the delegates and how they were chosen, and the manner Prof Bolaji Akinyemi conducted the affairs of the conference. We rejected the outcome of the confab long before the conference made its submission to the government.
What the northern delegates said over the week had been our stand from the beginning of the conference, throughout the conference and after the conference. So, there is no contradiction anywhere.
So, the report wasn’t accepted by your people?
It was dead on arrival. Even those who put it together knew that it was dead on arrival, because a government cannot convene a conference and accept whatever was the recommendation that came from it, and somehow assume or believe that the recommendation of the conference was going to be binding on the succeeding government, after the political life of the government that set it up had expired.
Nothing in the conference binds the Buhari government; nothing that Jonathan did, or those who advised him about the conference, or those who manipulated the conference did, can make the Buhari regime to be bound with what they did.
So, the entire exercise was a waste of resources?
Yes, right from the conception, and some of us said it then that there was no need for the conference, as it would serve and solve nothing. The parliament, the legal system and three tiers of government have adequate and enough institutions to tackle any constitutional issue.
The fact that some people came already after some subterranean meetings and insisted that they must have their own say, clearly indicated that the confab was convened in bad faith.
Why didn’t the Northern delegates walk out from the conference, to at least openly demonstrate their position, instead of allowing it to run its full course before taking this view?
This idea had occurred to the Northern Delegates Forum, but since all of them were confirmed democrats, who had proven their democratic credentials, they reasoned that the conference had 492 members. Out of this, 189 delegates were from the North, while 305 were from the South. Firstly, you can see already its composition was skewed against the North.
Secondly, in a democracy, you can only stage a walk out and it becomes successful when a quorum cannot be formed, if you did. So, if you don’t have a quorum, it will be an exercise in futility, as it will have no effect.
The northern delegates toyed with the idea and decided that they would not walk out, because they were few. So, they decided to continue till the end, because the composition was already wrong, the leadership wasn’t fair and the views manipulated from the presidency, which all of us knew about.
What was the idea behind the Conference you described as dead on arrival?
The idea was not publicly stated, but we were being told that the idea was to enable the Jonathan Presidency to somehow pick up. It was clear by many of the indices, which were reported then, that the state was terribly in a mess and the economy was heading towards a dead end. Given the record of Jonathan’s administration, even if there was an election in 2014/ 2015, Jonathan was doomed to fail; was going to lose the election.
Somehow, some of his friends from South East and South South, and other opportunists decided that, what was needed to provide Jonathan a clincher was to convene a sovereign national conference. But those who were agitating for a sovereign national conference had their own ideas, which were at variance with the ideas of Jonathan.
Anyway, the thing was convened and it failed. Those who were agitating for whatever they were agitating would realise by now that whatever they were agitating at the confab failed woefully, and if they wanted to continue with their agitation, they are at liberty to do so. But I want to assure you that nothing of this kind that was convened in bad faith can succeed in a complex country like Nigeria.
Why are we still talking about sovereign conferences and other conferences if things are right with the country as it is?
I’m not one of the agitators. I have my ideas about agitations of the various components of Nigeria, and I will want these agitations settled in a democratic and peaceful manner, bearing in mind that there is no country in the world that is perfect.
I believe those who started agitation for national conference have certain political ideas and if they don’t achieve those ideas, or it doesn’t go their ways, it will be that Nigeria is going to break up; there will be no more Nigeria, this and that. But, Nigeria is still very much on.
In a democracy, you cannot deny people’s right to liberty, but at the same time, it will be foolhardy to imagine that because certain agitations are denied or ignored, that the country will have to be put in danger. I don’t believe in that.
As far as I am concerned, politics must be a game of number; it is a game of persuasion and arrival at a consensus. If you want to blackmail the government to accept your demand for creation of additional states, for new revenue allocation formula, for this or that, there is nothing wrong with that, but what is unacceptable is when it is not of common interest. We have to realize that what is unacceptable with us is acceptable to other people. I don’t see anything wrong with the current structure or arrangement of Nigeria.
Anytime I look at the issue of constitutional arrangement there is something I found bizarre, that anytime they go on this issue of agitation, they make a fool of themselves. Those who are making similar agitation now are going to make a fool of themselves like those who made similar agitation in the past.
You mean Nigeria’s present structure is okay, when some people are talking of restructuring?
Look at the structure; can we afford other extravagant structures in place? Additional states and local governments that are not viable? Maybe to collapse some of the states- two or three states into one.
Do we restructure to expand or to restructure to collapse? It has to be based on concrete historical political reality. Viability of state is one factor, and not the only factor. If you are talking of viability, it is only two or three states that are viable. Do we collapse the 36 states and Abuja? No, it won’t work. We continue to dialogue, but no blackmail. You continue your agitation, but don’t put the gun on the head of the government to do what you say or Nigeria breaks up.
None of the recommendations of the confab will be implemented, so they can go to hell and do whatever they want to do.
What people don’t realise is that political development is a process, it goes on and sometimes with hiccups, but nobody should say, it is my way or nothing, you can’t do that. This is a country of almost 200 million people; so you have almost 200 million interests, then you are bound to have some differences and also engage in some give and take to arrive at our destination. We are not yet there, but we can be there, but not by agitation and blackmail.
INEC has just rolled out the timetable for the 2019 general elections; do you think it’s too early?
I don’t think it is too early and for me it is not too late, because we are already half way into the mandate of the current administration. Now, it is not the business of the INEC to juxtapose its assessment and election process in the future regarding the performance or non performance of this administration. I can see they are cautious and hopefully they are learning from the previous mistakes and blunders and once that is done, I think we are likely to have an election, which depending on the performance of the umpire, can be reasonably credible and fair. Apart from that, there is nothing much except if there is concern from other stakeholders, it will be good for the country to give them a chance to see how they can perform.
Majority of Nigerians were crying and still crying that there is serious hunger in the land, don’t you possibly consider this an impediment to the ruling party’s chances in 2019?
My concern is that there is real hunger in the land. People cannot live by their legitimate salaries, earnings or income. And once you have situation like this, whereby the rich are getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer, even among the rich, those who are privileged to be associated with Buhari, his relations and his cronies…The economy is in tatters with no serious attempt to bring it together. There is contact with people who have knowledge and experience in similar activity all over the world. Don’t forget we have a lot of Nigerians who have served in IMF and World Bank who are now out of government, but nobody is listening to them. The only way is for them to resort to crying foul.
That means a nation that fails to treat its intellectuals well can see no light and those who pretend not to see that the economy is in bad shape are not being sincere. There is crude attempt to blackmail this country through this government and I don’t think it’s going to work. Already, the international community is stopping and hearing what these people are saying and identifying with them, which I think is good for the country.
Nobody can force anybody to remain in Nigeria. The fact of the matter is that, if Africa and black man’s biggest and most encouraging enterprise were to collapse, all the vessels will be diminished. We must listen to all gangsters and thugs who form political career by working up agitation and promoting sentiments, so they can be relevant and they can collect money from whoever is in power. Those days are gone and they will never see that happening again.
What is the possible way out of this?
The way out is to move the economy forward. It looks simple, but sometimes it is complex. First, you have to know how you manage your Central Bank, how do you manage key sectors of the economy which in Nigeria today are agriculture, oil, manufacturing industries and trade and commerce across the country. But those factors cannot be achieved without strong solid base national security. If there is no peace and harmony, nobody is going to invest. Those who have money at all will keep it in the bank or at home.
Those who want to come from outside as foreign direct investors will not come. So, on the part of the government, we need a kind of facilitation that will work for peace and trade in the land, guarantee incentives for contracts. People know that once they come to invest, nobody will be there to mobilize Boko Haram elements to come and burn their house and investment. We should avoid killing people through lynch mob, we avoid what has been seen and heard from the South South and South East and the very people, the ones we expect to be sensible, who have held certain positions in this country, like John Nwodo and Edwin Clark, are now fanning the embers of disunity.
Imagine, they are blackmailing Buhari. I want to assure you that they are not going to succeed. We stupidly handed over power through Obasanjo shenanigans to Goodluck Jonathan. He did very badly. Now, some people are saying we have to repeat the same mistake by handing over to an unidentified Igbo man because it’s their time to be the President of Nigeria. We have tried the rotational system and it has not worked. I can’t see how we can blindly follow, even when we have tried it and failed. They say the classical definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different outcome. Zoning or rotation to me is madness and as long as we make it the main mantra for the leadership of this country, we are going to be in serious trouble.
I know the quest for correct leadership, responsible elites and concern for Nigerians is very important, but it can only be done through dialogue, discussion and building bridges through respect for the people, no matter what their identities are. The search for formula that will work for Nigeria is a search in progress. We have to continue and those of us who are now aging will give to young generation and they also will have to pass the baton of responsible leadership among the elite to the next generation and on and on.
Just recently, a high court sitting in Akure, the Ondo State capital sentenced seven herdsmen who kidnapped Chief Olu Falae some time ago to life imprisonment possibly to serve as deterrent to others. In your thinking, what can be done to end frequent herders/farmers clashes now spreading fast across the country?
In this much talked about clashes between herdsmen and farmers, my take will be slightly different. I don’t support what they do, in fact, I condemn it totally. Chief Falae is a friend of mine and I remember I got across to him immediately after he was released from the kidnappers’ den then. My question is, who these Fulani herdsmen are. I am a Fulani myself.. The few I see on television and photographs don’t appear to me to be Fulani people generally, even if they look lanky as I look. I know our borders are porous, how come, even though we have relative knowledge about these herdsmen, why is it becoming so ugly now? Are we sure we don’t have people who are fanning this ember from behind the scene? Then, I’m also worried about the fact that at least in the North, which constitutes 72 per cent of the land mass of Nigeria, every area has been salvaged and land set aside for the Fulani, we call “Burutali”. Suddenly, this has become a problem, because the elites have diverted Fulani herdsmen from their land. Now, they have to go into some places with guns and daggers.
So, frankly speaking, we have a serious problem. But with goodwill and serious commitment, it can be controlled. I believe there are some people who are fanning this, but whether they are Nigerian Fulani, that I do not know.
One thing we should also appreciate is that, out of the 55 countries in Africa today, 33 of them have identified Fulani settlements, towns and villages. So, which of these Fulani are making this trouble? Are they those who have been living within us or those that come in from other countries? Honestly I don’t know.
Government has to come up with an answer. The issue is beyond my friend, Chief Olu Falae. It is beyond any group of elites and of course, the South West media have made a lot of noise blaming everybody.
The more you do your homework and the less you make noise the better. And I think Nigeria has to know that this issue will not go away simply because they make noise and blame north for everything. That does not mean that the Fulani who cause trouble should go scot-free. Anybody who is involved in violence should be dealt with as far as I am concerned.