Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohamed, has warned those still calling for the implementation of the 2014 constitutional conference report to stop troubling themselves as that will never be done at all. Dr. Mohammed in this interview with VINCENT KALU, emphasised that former President Goodluck Jonathan had already written a constitution and wanted them to rubber stamp it, but those of them from the North showed him how to play politics. He said those calling for the nation’s breakup are asking for the impossible.
How do you assess the current state of the nation?
It is one of hopelessness and despondency. This country has never been so bad. We have people in charge, who are completely incapable, incompetent, thoroughly inept and thoroughly dishonourable. I’m now 70 years old, I have been politically conscious from the time I was ten years because I come from a political family. Within the last 50 years of my life; in fact from 1970, I have never seen Nigeria in this kind of hopelessness. One, the economy is in tatters; secondly, the security is absolutely messy and lousy; thirdly, there is nothing you can call leadership, the political class is bankrupt and irresponsible, and we are in a situation whereby there is so much rancor and disharmony that you may ask, ‘if you are in a desperate situation who do you run to?’ It is not the government because they have nothing to offer. We have a situation whereby we spend more time quarreling about who will be the next leader, who will take what position, who will be next governor, rather than the actual governance. If the nation’s political class or the elites have nothing to offer other than quarrels among themselves, you can see that clearly, the nation is doomed, and there is nothing to celebrate. There is a lot to feel disgusted in the way this country is governed.
Every problem has a solution. How does the country come out of these problems you have highlighted?
First and foremost, there can never be a solution to any problem without adequate, competent and effective governance. If a nation is not governed effectively, there is no way you can change that nation, we have been groping in the dark for too long. From 1960 when we became independent up to present day, we have had some elusive intervals when we had leaders that gave us hope, but that vanished either through assassination, coups or attempted coups, and every time we have leaders, we thought they could justify the confidence reposed in them, but they turn out to be massive disappointment; they turn out to be liars, corrupt, nepotistic people, who do not care about the country, and who imagine that somehow, by playing the media against the rest of the country; playing those who are privileged against the rest of us who are not privileged, that they will somehow win loyalists, and unfortunately, they have not been able.
The country is so charged, so tense that I imagine somehow that you can strike a stick of matches on it, and then conflagration will ensue. That is very unfortunate for the country, and unfortunately, I see no way out, especially with the current people who are now in charge because all their lies have been denigrated; everything we have been told has not happened, in fact, it is getting worse. If a nation has a government that has only one agenda item, the moment that agenda is quenched, the entire government loses credibility and without credibility, there is no way you can do anything. If a government comes in to fight corruption and somehow, some of the worst corrupt elements are part of the government, or related to those who are in the government, you can see that there is no hope.
Talking about solutions to the nation’s problems, former Kaduna governor, Balarabe Musa, recently, proposed breaking the country into six zones, which should be the federating units, and devolution of powers. What is your take on this?
What he was talking about is that the country should be broken up completely; why didn’t he come and say straight away, ‘break up the country’. Forget about what he called the federating units because the federating units in Nigeria didn’t create itself; not that they voluntarily came together and formed a country called Nigeria. Coming together of Nigeria was done at the instance of the colonial powers, and if you want to now break it, you have to go back to the period that preceded the colonial powers, and I begin to ask, what are the constituent units? Nigeria came to being by the colonial powers bringing the North and South together in 1914, and you now come to say, let us break what emerged from 1914 and after, and he is also telling us that we are going to do it on the basis of the current six geopolitical zones, he has to tell us the basis. Without basis, it turns out to be ridiculous remedy you can imagine. We had 12 states as federating units, we had 21, then 23 and now 36, no reason can one advance to persuade the people of this country that these six zones are the most prudent structures that we can have in the country, and no one will listen to that garbage. The man is over 80, how come he never came up with this idea since.
I believe in politics and when the time comes and we have a serious crisis, which we need to put our best foot forward; men with ideas, not those who want to see their names on the pages of newspapers because when we have a crisis, you don’t simply talk of how we break up, but how you come out of the crisis.
What Balarabe Musa was saying isn’t new; it is has been part and parcel of the Southeast for agitation of additional state, local governments and of course agitation for presidency to go to the region. He was not part of the 2014 constitutional conference, I was, and I represented Kano, the largest state in the country. If he wants to now be a propagandist and a demagogue for a section of the country, he can go ahead and do so, but the fact of the matter is that, what he is even canvassing cannot be delivered even in his village in Kaduna.
When he mentioned devolution of powers, has he told you the power that should be devolved? If it’s education, then let me tell you, I’m not in government, but I have information in government. According to the constitutions of Nigeria in 1979 and 1999, primary education and substantial part of secondary education are supposed to be the responsibilities of state and local governments, but unfortunately, they took or stole the money meant from primary and secondary education. So, whoever was in charge over the years from 1979 or 1999 to date would have to now come and finance to ensure the running of primary and secondary education, otherwise, the entire education in the country would collapse. The federal government had to create parastatals to run education because the states would not do it if the money is given to them. What the law says is important to adhere to, to avoid anarchy, but at the same time, it is important to realise that in addition to what the law says, you have to look at what is practical, and how to go about it. Do you deny the country education simply because we have irresponsible governors, and irresponsible local government chairmen and their councilors because if the wordings of the constitution were to be adhered to, none of the state governments would run their education system effectively; they would only steal the money. I don’t go for cheap words or slogans – true federalism, this or that. In actual terms, what does that mean and how does it translate to your lifestyle, to my lifestyle, my security, your security, to social harmony between you and I and other people; these are what I want to hear from people who claim to be politicians; who think they know something.
You said you were a member of the 2014 constitutional conference, why can’t the report be implemented to address some of the problems in the polity?
Yes, I was. In the first place, what was actually submitted to former President Jonathan was not what was agreed by members. Secondly, the legitimacy of the conference and all the recommendations were stillborn; it was a bastard constitutional conference because national conference or constitutional conference is supposed to be a new image for the country itself.
When we went to the conference, we found that its composition has been so skewed that the minority became the majority and vice versa. In the course of the discussion, a lot of things we didn’t discuss or we didn’t agree or accept or didn’t get before were smuggled into the final report. What they said we agreed was not what we agreed. We found that they already had a prepared constitution they wanted us to rubber stamp, and we refused to rubber stamp it and that nearly broke the conference.
So, why must we ratify and enact what we didn’t agree upon? Like I said, the composition was stillborn. It as a bastard constitutional conference put together for the purpose of tenure elongation of Jonathan. You cannot play with the intelligence of 200 million Nigerians. Those who took his money and told him that if only he could hold the conference that his reelection was assured have disappeared into thin air.
If we had a proper constitutional conference arrived at from the basis of national consensus, particularly among the elites, because it’s the elites who go to constitutional conference, then of course, the result could be implemented. You cannot implement the result of something, which was stillborn. So, it was dead on arrival.
Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEFF and Middle Belt Forum, have dragged President Buhari to court over lopsided appointments, what is your view on this?
First and foremost, there is nepotism and there is lopsidedness in the appointments by this present administration, but I also believe that if something should be done, it should be for a certain reasonable time line. Do we take the composition of the federal government from 1979 or 1999 in particular, and see who and who are in each board, each department, each ministry and each agency and we look and see who are the people who are represented and the people who are not represented. You simply can’t sit and say, from the time Buhari came to power, he made such and such appointment. I’m not defending him, but people around him can advance the reason that the people he is appointing now are maybe under represented, but I don’t know; I’m not defending him to say that was right. What I’m saying is that, if you want to do a census, you must do it from a certain timeline agreed and let us see how many people are from which state and from which local government and let us see how many are from what tribe or which town. I must also say, there is a limit to what I can say as regards the matter, because it is subjudice, but if the matter were to be discussed, I would be more than glad for everybody to bring his own case, and let the matter be discussed because I believe if people complain, they must have a reason for that, and they have the right and are entitled also to justice. Beyond that, I’m not prepared to follow people who are nothing but demagogues and who are fighting not what they claim to be fighting for, because if you ask any of them to produce a minister they will bring their own relations; if you ask them to bring people for employment into Customs, CBN, they will bring their relations. Nobody has the right to use the name of Southeast, Middle Belt, PANDEFF, Southwest and what have you to come and generate agitation to drive certain personal advantages. If you want to do it, let us do it in a way that is rational. If you have certain position, you now say, which state or local government is entitled to this position, let it be advertised, and you set the benchmark, and whoever that makes it, is entitled to go forward for an interview, that is how you do things rationally.
Our hands are always full; how does the international community regard us over the sordid news oozing out from EFCC and NDDC?
We are not respected outside our borders; we don’t even respect ourselves. The EFCC unfortunately might have been well meant under Obasanjo. The merit and the mandate of the EFCC have been bastardised as a result of the recent event. I don’t want to blame anybody, but I know there is no way you can run an institutionalized anti corruption agency with the force of law and the right to prosecute if you subject the people in the EFCC to the kind of political shenanigans under some small boys who are very corrupt and who don’t have the capacity to even work as middle level officers in the EFCC itself.
Everybody who is working in the NDDC is in that place as a result of recommendation by some governors or some political powerful elites. If you think these are the people who will remedy the problems of Niger Delta, you are deceiving yourself. I worked in the previous NDDC, which was OMPADEC and I know special people who worked there came from the leaders. I also know that in spite of the fact that I had lots of problems with the chairman, Albert Horsfall. If the government is serious with those at the helm of the organisation, the result they deliver will be meaningful, if they are not sincere and not serious and they subject it to corrupt governors and other political and relevant elites, nothing will be achieved.
The NDDC can be salvaged so long as it will be seen as a national assignment by people who have conscience and know the needs of the people in the area and of the necessary things that need to be done, but if you subject the mandate of the NDDC to the whims ad caprices of the governors who are politically and in every sense comprehensively corrupt, you will not get result.
EFCC and ICPC are gone, and nothing will happen and whatever little they have achieved, God bless those who were sincerely responsible, but I don’t see how under the present circumstances that the EFCC can be salvaged. ICPC was an unnecessary duplication. We have to go back to the drawing board, start all over again and ensure that we have an enabling law and the people that will make the agency work will never subject the EFCC chairman to the ratification of the Senate. We must make the EFCC and similar organisations directly under the president so that we hold the president directly responsible. This idea of having EFCC chairman, who will survive by playing games can’t take us anywhere. Look at the four chairmen we have had, none of them finished well because none of the presidents, including the current never meant well for EFCC and was not sincere in the anti corruption fight. You don’t fight corruption in the situation we find ourselves by merely shouting slogan. This is the situation we find ourselves. Are we prepared to fight, if we are prepared, who are the commanders in this fight and what is the legal and other enabling environment for us to do so? You will have a situation whereby all those who have been appointed have come from the police; you and I know what we know about the Nigeria Police. The entire thing is a police operation; those who stop people on the way and extort N100, N200, are the kind of people you expect to come and fight corruption for you, you cannot be serious. Some Nigeria Policemen were sent outside Nigeria and they did well. But for them to fight corruption in Nigeria? You must be joking.
Other places where they have anti corruption agency like the one in South Africa, it is not a police matter; it is a national matter because they take it as a matter of life and death. They consider corruption as a big existential threat. They removed a president for corruption, but the difference in them and us is that they have real political parties, who are in charge; who can hold anybody to order. In Nigeria, there are no political parties, just a bunch of people who are busy fighting themselves, and who are busy changing parties and loyalties; today they are in one party and tomorrow they in another party. This is what I call a PDP culture. In South Africa, they inherited what they call Directorate of Public Prosecution, and they removed that from the Attorney General, and put it under Independent Prosecution Authority. It is about time we do that. If you do that our lawyers, especially the so called SANs will start shouting. If we are serious to do something, it can’t be now, it is too late. Maybe after this government and we start preparing now until 2023, if we don’t consume ourselves in some conflagration, on who will be the next president, then we have time to do some important amendments to enable us reorganise the mandates of ICPC and EFCC, and make sure that those who are going to do the job are protected, particularly from the Senate. The Senate should not have the power to ratify appointments in EFCC and ICPC because they are part of the problem.
You emphasised why 2014 confab report can’t see the light of the day, some argue that the North are opposed to it because they think that restructuring won’t favour them. Do you share that sentiment?
You have never sat me down and talked to me about restructuring and I told you that I’m not against it or I’m for it. None of the people you claimed to be speaking for the North, speak for the North. How many of them you line up in the newspapers for it or against it speak for the North? I don’t know of any. I have won election and members of my family have won elections. Whatever you want to do; do it right and make sure you carry the people along.
The idea that the North is afraid of restructuring is a figment of imagination of those who are peddling these sinister rumours. What we are saying is that if you want to do something, bring your own ideas and we bring ours and that was the whole import of the last constitutional conference. The week we arrived, we had walked into a trap. Jonathan had prepared the constitution and had prepared the composition of the Confab, he simply wanted us to sit and append it, but we showed them we have some political savvy; we have experience and some of us have come from political homes and we know how to play our game. We played that game and we defeated them.
Without an honest and sincere preparation, one hundred constitutional conferences cannot solve the problem of the country, but if you do adequate and sincere preparation, without some taking undue advantage of other people, of course, it can be done. There are more complex countries that have been able to resolve their problems. India is a democracy, and a nation of 1.3 billion people, and they have never missed an election; even when they have problems during the election, they have always ended up with a credible and legitimate government. When you are not prepared to do that, but you only want to take undue advantage of the others, then you have a problem. It can be done, but nobody should start blaming some people when in fact the game has not started. If you want to play game by having two set of rules, one set which is open and not everybody is going to be a participant and the second one, you introduce a new set of rules after the game has gone half way, of course, no one will accept that and that was what happened. No leader, be it Jonathan or Buhari can imagine that he can take this country for a ride.