General Ibrahim Bata Malgwi Haruna (IBM) is an elder stateman, a Minister of Information and Culture during the Murtala/ Obasanjo regime between 1975 and 1977, as well as a former Chairman, Arewa Consultative Forum. In this interview with ABDULLAHI HASSAN, in Abuja, Gen. Haruna, opposed the idea of rotational presidency, saying that rotation is inimical to modern democracy as such issues of power shift to any part of the south will create and promote disunity among Nigerians. He also spoke on the recent quit notice issued by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state to Fulani herdsmen, saying such directive was wrong. He also spoke on the recent appointment of former service chiefs as ambassadors, the controversy over who should speak for the North between Northern Elders Forum and Arewa Consultative Forum and host of other issues. “To me, rotation or power shift is out of place and will not provide a common unity for our people towards achieving democratic goals…So, rotation with regards to how far we have come, will be a retrogressive step or system”, he stated.
Nigerians are still complaining about democracy due to lack of significant and positive changes in their lifestyle. As an elder statesman, how do you view this?
I think the overall judgment comparing from the time of colonial interest of overpowering the interest of the people to the military regime, the people’s opportunity to express their wish was there; though the laws were being made, by either the supreme military council during the military and the three arms of government during the era of democracy. However, our development has been stunted because of instability of policy pursuit and the incompetence of leaders and overriding interest of corruption; that is the impact of individual desire to enrich themselves, the greed, and the selfishness. We are still struggling with poverty in the midst of wealth because we have both human and material resources, which would have sustained even a welfare system but it has not been pursued by successive governments, that is why we go forward two steps and come back two steps. There is small measure in our development and growth but by and large, we are giants that remain pings.
Even though the next general elections are still two years away, there are ongoing arguments between the North and the South on who should produce the next president. What is your view?
In the context of our history, it is the objective of African countries including Nigeria, to become united and civilize, with the diverse tribes we have. Rotational presidency or power shift does not augur well for unity because to rotate means you have a measure of retaining the disunity that exists and on that basis freeze it so that you can rotate from one to other; so that also has very serious effect on the social integration economically because once you start rotating, you block or stagnate the process or dynamics of integration. You further start discrimination between the people who normally seek for unity. So I personally think that from that context, if we are looking for unity in diversity by building politics in unity and facilitate development across people and retaining the diversity on cultural plain, that is where ethnic minority or majority could exercise their cultural freedom. So rotation with regards to how far we have come, will be a retrogressive step or system. We should continue on the path of our popular democracy and with all the ideals of democracy, the various diversity can be absorbed in each unit that constitutes a state and exercise their democratic rights, freedom and maintain their culture including language and way life without any change.
You see this South East or West agitations are just mere geographical expressions, because the North, South West or East are constructed or created for identity. I don’t think there any bases for them to become concretized structures because the human civilization is always changing not only civilization itself but also the people’s perception changes over time. Economy also affects changes with discoveries, with technology and changes in development and governance. We have the rising and falling of many empires as well as the segmentation of various nations as a result of many factors. So we should have an open mind and flexible, we should consider our responses to various changes. That is the basis of democracy, because what prevails should be based on give and take and agreements. So long as we envisage the best way for us to live for purpose of peace and security, there is always the need to discuss and agree at all levels. To me, rotation or power shift is out of place and will not provide a common unity for our people towards achieving democratic goals.
You took over as chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, after the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi. Are you satisfied with the position of the North under the present dispensation?
The ACF was conceived as a socio-cultural organization to protect social and cultural interests that exist between the various constituencies of Northern region. At a time when it was being threatened by the political desire to keep northern entity in the background of development, springing up in Nigeria, the North sought to express its participation in the political and economic structures as equal and equitable partners in the Nigeria nation through the ACF to avoid being stagnant or ruled by the notion of perpetual unity and held down by some dictators.
It is alleged that partisan politicians, looking at the composition of the present executive, had hijacked the ACF. How does that affect the aims and objectives of the association?
Our attempt in ACF is to maintain that socio- cultural affinity that exists in the north, which is almost two third of the geographical space of Nigeria. So the ACF was born out of political desire and motivation and aspiration in which politicians had an investment but I think the ACF would have succeeded if the people who are leading it have strong belief in what the group should stand for. You cannot stop an association from being influenced by politics or politicians but they should not divert from the main focus. Yes, they should have influence but not to be in control because ACF is not a political party or protect a particular party’s interest. It is meant to be social and cultural. So, the association is supposed to consolidate not the interest of dominant ethnic groups or minority groups. They should come together and express themselves through resolutions and representations of their wishes in joining other groups in the federation in order to maintain peace, unity, security and progress as a whole as members of the Nigerian federation.
You are talking of unity of the Northern people, but here we have different associations; ACF, Northern Elders etc. speaking for the North, why can’t the North have one voice like Ohaneze and Afenifere on issues of regional and national interest?
Well, I was the chairman a different circumstance. The constitution allows freedom of expression and association; the youths have their views, women have their own, elders too. The beauty of having more associations in democracy is that different views create arena for collaborations and consensus. Elders Forum, ACF, the youths and women are all relevant if they have identified their interest or a way to express their views towards getting resolutions.
How do you see the state of insecurity in the country today?
My view is that insecurity is a permanent challenge; it cannot be solved in a day. We can’t sit down, fold our arms and watch because the threat could come from different dimensions and change any day. America may look stable but there are still people who carry guns and shoot children in school. There are still people who are neck deep in getting wealth from drugs. So they have their security challenges, which may change; we have our own, we call it security challenges but in fact the challenges are in the context of our economy, politics and democracy. This scenario signifies failures of government or social and economic policy in the country. If the right governance is in place over time, you’ll not have emergence of nomadic culture for production of protein in the country, we will not have the continuous challenge of land trespass. They are all indications of government failure in controlling the evolution of peaceful and secure society. So, the present conflicts and threats to national security didn’t start today, tribalism didn’t start today, Fulani conflict didn’t start today but the criminal elements that have grown around the country are the ones that have challenged government and power to control movement, to control arms so that people will not resort to criminality and use of force. It is only the state that has the monopoly of power and use of power. If you challenge the freedom of people by spreading weapons, you can be termed as criminal. But who has the power to do that? It is government and its agencies. Where all these are not tackled, it shows that the government is failing.
The insecurity is pitching ethnic groups against the other in the South like the Yoruba of South West and Igbo of South East. What is your view on this especially the quit notice given to Fulani herdsmen in those parts of the country?
The narrative being run is what is causing the confusion and lack of focus in finding solutions to the problem. The criminality can be based on tribalism and stereotype the Fulani, they may be predominant in one form of criminality but others are predominating in another form of criminality. So, it is the narrative that places Fulani on the front burner as criminals carrying guns and being reinforced by foreign elements but in truth criminals are criminals, whether they are Fulani, Igbo or Yoruba, they all have fields of expertise; some are motivated to collect money, to terrorize or buy drugs or get wealth. It is government that must show its authority to ensure that there is justice; support the victims and justice to the criminals. There should be a special court to deal with criminal elements and their criminalities; to speed up the process so that the criminals will feel that there is government in control, not they, the criminals in control. Once you start having agreements with them or negotiating amnesty, then government is putting itself into competition with criminals, which is untenable. Government must put itself in position of ensuring peace in the country without discriminating against any group; the deviants must be put in their place.
What should be the criteria to choose the next president, competence or zoning or power rotation?
For a president to emerge, there has to be a process, a process that overtime yields and generates the capacity of intelligence, knowledge disposition and the character of who has passed through the process to be the overall leader. You are a footballer and wants to be captain; there must be a process to select you as captain not just because you can kick a ball. So if one wants to ask, how has the Nigerian system evolved to produce accepted leader for the whole nation? Well, you’ll find that our system has not worked to produce a leader that is competent and accepted by all; our system has worked on bias even at the highest level and it is only overtime you can evolve a strong leadership that is generally and widely acceptable, with capacity, intelligence, knowledge with both social connection and in-depth knowledge of the major issues like economy, security and technology. Honestly, It’s not easy to have generally a small percentage of the persons who can be adjudged to posses these qualities. But we’ll get there one day. Now we are involving technocrats in the system. Politics or elements within the society involve leadership; leadership starts from a group not from the ancestral lineage. Leadership is not patronage; leadership in democracy is different from leadership in a feudal lords system where you can do rotation within the family or district. We have the problem of selection on competence and quality. To meet up the international standard of leadership selection, there must be a reform in our educational system, our security and general level of enlightenment of the people.