DRJunaid Mohammed, a medical doctor, politician and member of the Northern intelligentsia, speaks on the self-determination quest by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, the xenophobia attacks by South Africans on Nigerians and other foreign nationals in South Africa, the $9.8 billion judgment debt against Nigeria, 2023 presidential elections and power shift. He also speaks on other contemporary national issues. Excerpts.
What do you think about the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other foreign nationals in South Africa and the nature of reaction to it by the Federal Government and the people?
This is very unfortunate. The xenophobic attack on Nigerians, Ethiopians, Zimbabweans, Tanzanians and other foreign African nationals in South Africa is disturbing and condemnable. The South Africans are speaking from two sides of their mouth. One, they want to live as if they are the custodians of the liberation struggle and that they fought hard exclusively to dismantle the apartheid regime in their country. On the other hand, they are showing levels of intolerance on fellow Africans. They give the impression that they see the struggle as somehow, we are a burden to them. But when they were in the struggle, we were the mainstay, the main pillar of support as well of other African countries. They have resorted to making the whole thing very obscene and very irresponsible. Nigerians are being targeted. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know why they are making Nigerians the main object of their attacks. The attacks have been very vicious and unsparing even to other African nationals. Even in the face of the attacks, Nigerians have managed to maintain decorum. Having admitted this, we also have to be careful about how we react. We don’t have the aggression and economic capacity to engage the South Africans in a manner that the attacks have elicited. We don’t have a common border with South Africa and even if we have to engage them on the strength of the attacks they have unleashed on Nigerians by going there to do battle, we don’t have the economic power to do that. It is not even advisable because two wrongs don’t make a right. Unfortunately, this kind of crises in international affairs must lead to political understanding. There is need for some kind of dialogue between our leaders and their leaders and make them know that they can’t get anywhere with the kind of recklessness, which they have adopted. They also have to be made quite aware that there are also South Africa business interests in Nigeria because it is not going to be a one sided thing. Firms like MTN, DSTV, Shoprite and others have their majority shares owned by Nigerians and in the course of attacking them we give ourselves a bad name, and secondly, we earn a reputation that is not going to be our pride. Already, I understand that there are bound to be about 5,000 job losses from the revenge attacks in Lagos on MTN, Shoprite and that is not economically healthy and salutary. We have many jobless Nigerians and we don’t have to encourage a situation where some of us will lose jobs later. We have to be very, very careful because we don’t have to cut our nose to spite our face. And I think this message is clear. That is why careful political handling is required, sensible statements are required and any kind of provocative statements are not advised. Maturity is needed because it is a sensitive issue. Tact is also needed.
Are you thinking alongside the government of Nigeria that the attacks and reprisals could spark off an international uproar that may not be helpful?
That may well happen, but again, I don’t want us to raise hysterical voices about our stand vis-a-vis the international community and what it entails. We should make sure we do the right thing as far as international law is concerned. We should ensure that we do the right thing as long as this issue is concerned. Secondly, we should make sure we don’t go out of our way to attack and draw avoidable and unnecessary flaks to our self by avenging because by avenging we may unconsciously avenge ourselves. This is why caution is required in handling this explosive matter. South Africa and Nigeria are Africa’s largest economies. We must never be seen to have lost control in the maelstrom of this challenge. When you look at the sides in the crises, there is more potential danger and harm to us. We are more than 180 million people in Nigeria and South Africa is just about 50 million people. We are more than thrice the size of South Africa. We haven’t had occasion and God forbid we should have occasion to go and face ourselves in the battlefield. Nigeria is currently faced with insurgency and other troubles and can ill afford the luxury of an international confrontation of any kind now. Sometimes, you take in much and demonstrate responsibility by being calm and collected in pursuit of an objective. We have to demonstrate a sense of appreciation of the situation especially its combustible nature. I don’t want Nigerians to go about fighting South Africa despite the provocation and onslaught in the streets of Johannesburg and Pretoria. We must place a hold on what is happening here in reaction to those things. We should show understanding and care to see how we simmer this thing down and ensure no one is badly hurt at the end. Our leaders on both sides should sheathe the sword and not go about making incendiary statements that will not build peace, understanding and perhaps deepen the hostility between the two nations.
Don’t you think that the government of Nigeria is also culpable by creating economic conditions of high unemployment that led to the massive drift of her nationals to South Africa and other countries of the world in search of greener pastures and in the process getting caught in this hounding?
First of all do you know the level of unemployment in Nigeria today?
It is said to be in the region of 70 per cent
I think you are confusing two issues. The level of poverty in Nigeria is different from the level of unemployment. So, the level of poverty in Nigeria is hovering around 70 per cent. That means we are not doing well in terms of growing the economy, creating jobs and maintaining a healthy balance in the labour market. South Africa is the most industrialized country in the whole of Africa, North and South of the Sahara. They still have a certain level of unemployment there. I don’t think this economic blues is only applicable to Nigeria because we have a high level of unemployment. South Africans are attacking Nigerians in their homes and looting their shops. But yet, Nigeria can do a lot better in growing the local economy and making sure that jobs are created. These jobs will add some impetus to the economy. But you just don’t create jobs like that by fiat. You have to work hard. You have to engage the people who have good track records in building the economy and creating jobs and I believe that if all things work well and they are engaged it will be to the greater glory of the country. But I also think that is not the time to start attacking government or blaming it for not creating jobs or unemployment. This situation has been there for some time now. Mark you, this government we are talking about inherited a huge mass of unemployed people. The government is assiduously charting the graph on how to grapple with the unemployment burden. It has not been easy and I hope that there will soon be light at the end of the tunnel. If that is the case, you may or may not blame them. They are not sitting on their oars and like I said earlier, it cannot be done by fiat. It requires a lot of hard work. They have just begun their second term and let us wait and see what will happen in this second term.
Just a few months after the last elections, there is intense jostling ahead of the 2023 presidential elections. The Southeast and the Southwest are positioning to clinch the presidential seat, citing political equilibrium, justice and zoning. What is your view on this positioning in respect to the outlined indices and the political history of the nation?
In case you don’t know, I don’t believe in zoning in running an organization. I didn’t believe in it when I was in active politics and I still don’t believe in it. You may also want to know that zoning is not an official policy in most of the major political parties in the country. What will be the solution to the problem of zoning, I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. Now, for those positioning to take over, it is not an area I want to bother myself about. I want to see the government commit itself to achieve the things it promised Nigerians during the campaigns. I think that is more important than the jostling you mentioned. Their positioning is the least of my worries. I am worried about those who emerge from the elections as winners. They should be judged on the basis of their performance in office. That is where we should key in to make the country better for us all. This zoning that we constantly talk about is diversionary and it distracts us from the burning issues of the day that is paramount to our survival and progress as a nation and that is performance of public office holders. We need to monitor office holders closely and make sure that those who fail to perform are not allowed to return to office for second tenure.
Based on the canon of social justice, would you say that the North is justified in holding on to power beyond 2023, performance or no performance, zoning or no zoning?
That is very noxious. If I don’t believe in zoning there is no need for me to comment on whether the North is justified to hold on to power beyond 2023. Why don’t you ask me if the Southeast or Southwest should be in power at that time? If I say they should be in power or hold on to power, I must state a reason. It should not be a situation where every dick and harry can assess government based on zoning, or because it is said that it is their turn.
Yes, a lot of stakeholders in the Nigerian project have been vociferous about power shift as a stabilizing factor in a multi-ethnic and religious society. Your take on this is important.
I am sure you are getting my position. I will never support anybody holding on to power if he does not perform. That is where I always draw the line. It is not about the North or Southeast. It is all about performance. We cannot sacrifice that for anything. There is what is called electoral legitimacy and performance legitimacy. If you cannot perform, why should you hold on to power? There have been leaders who were not elected, but performed very well and are regarded as national icons. If you are elected and you fail to perform, you have gone down in history as infamous and so why should it be a concern for him to hold on to power. I believe in term limits, but I do not believe in term limits, which circumscribes power in the hands of certain people. I believe in term limits based on the established mantra of social order and constitution, and the fact that no matter how much you have done, you have to give way. If you don’t want to give way, the constitutional principles will apply. I have never changed on that. I believe in term limits to the effect that it enhances the progress of the nation and not because they come from a section of the country or something like that.
Let me take you to the raging issue of the showdown between the Shiites (Islamic Movement of Nigeria) who are planning and threatening more marches against the detention of their leader, El ZakZaky. What is your own solution to the protracted impasse and how to bring down tension in the country?
The Shiites were the people who brought the tension. It was inevitable as far as I am concerned. The Shiites tendency in Islam is not necessarily an indigenous affair. What is happening is that Saudi Arabia has a lot of problems with Iran and they are now trying to expose this role differences into other peoples domains, into other peoples countries. And I believe it will not be good for a country. I have tried to rationalize the local crises, local and profound communities only into two powerful rebels located in the two countries. I have been saying this for years. And I remember in 2012, I gave a lecture at Zaria and I warned, and made it clear to everybody that we should not get involved; we should avoid it by any means necessary. If the Shiites think that they can come with their own form of religion and canvass it forcefully where there is a government, I think it will be very, very difficult to tolerate them and they will find it very difficult surviving Nigeria.
IPOB is insisting that if there is no shift of power to the Southeast which they say is highly marginalized, they will give more vent to their clamour to leave the country. What is your take on this?
It is more than an empty boast. One, I would like elements including some of the criminals in IPOB to be allowed to take a chance in governing this country in the spirit of democracy, provided he has not over reached himself and got himself into trouble or criminal acts. Beyond that, in a democracy, if you’re blackmailing somebody, whether you have power or you don’t have power, you’re going to lose something terrible. Looking at where they are coming from, they ought to have handled it more carefully. Look at the Southeast, they are landlocked. They have no opening to the outside world. They are going to have a lot of economic challenges. So, where is the confidence coming from? What makes the Southeast believe they can stand and survive alone outside Nigeria? Let there be peace. If there is no peace and there is war I don’t think they can achieve that their pipedream. It is mere wishful thinking. I want IPOB to do some reflective thinking and desist from blackmailing the rest of the nation.
But they claim they are not landlocked as widely believed. They claim that there is an outlet into the Atlantic Ocean through Obukwa in Abia State and that the port is yet to be developed despite appeals to the Federal Government.
I don’t know, but that is the general claim today.
How much do you know Abia State? I worked there. I worked in Port Harcourt and I used to drive from Port Harcourt to Aba. So, where is the access to the sea? I want to know. I never saw it. Unless they want to overwhelm the security and clans around the lagoons in Port Harcourt because they are Igbo, but by international law, they don’t have access to the sea.
There have been so much talk about the possible disintegration of Nigeria in the last few years. Is it possible?
You want my view?
It can’t happen. And if it does happen, those who are championing it or those who imagine that they will be better off will be surprised that they will not be better off. The horrible scenario that can lead to the breakup of this country is not going to happen unless if there is a consensus, and if it happens, every Nigerian will be diminished.
There is this raging issue of a judgment, which asked Nigeria to pay $9.6billion to a firm known as P&ID in a failed oil and gas contract in 2009. How do you want the country to go about it and what should happen to the perpetrators of the act?
They should be prosecuted straight away. There should be no waste of time on this. We can appeal the matter or through arbitration we can do so. I disagree that those who handled the deal in such a shambolic way should not expect to be left alone. They stabbed the country and don’t deserve to be left alone. All those who are involved, including public officials and those from NNPC and other government firms should all be brought to book. As far as I am concerned, anyone who has been found to be complicit or his poor performance in this regard led to this embarrassment must be dealt with. Even if you say the matter happened in 2009, what happened from 2009 to today? What were Nigerian state officials doing till it came to this? Who played what role? This matter must not be treated with kid gloves. If they want to introduce politics of tribalism in this case it won’t help because we are in deep shit. Because of the level of corruption in the country and negligence, so many things are left untouched and people simply get away with blue murder. It must continue like that, otherwise we are doomed.