Member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mohammed Abba Gana, has said the North should concede power to the South in 2023 as a sacrifice for justice, equity and unity of the country. He spoke on various issues in this interview.
Nigeria recently celebrated her 59th independence from Colonial rule with many arguing whether it was worth it considering the challenges facing the nation today. For you, what were your reflections on October 1?
Political instability is the root cause of all the problems that we have in the country. On the contrary, political stability is very important to development. If we are like the leaders who got us independence -Zik, Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria would have been like Brazil, India or any of our peers. There was this disruption in 1966 and we removed the original people who got us independence aside and those that came in were not prepared for leadership. The military leaders then were very young. Both Gowon and Ojukwu were very young and were not up to 40 years that time. So, our problem started with the disruption of the leadership process and before we get it right, it would take time. For instance, if you take India from Mahatma Ghandi to Nehru, there was no disruption and their democracy stabilised. Even South Africa was also lucky to have Nelson Mandela who was the leader of the African National Congress (ANC). He was in prison in Robin Island for 27 years and when he was released, he continued as the leader of the party and he stabilised South Africa for both the Whites who created the apartheid regime and the blacks. He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission led by Desmond Tutu. The people were reconciled and they got political stability. In our own case, the elders with their wisdom and education were removed and those who came did not have the experience. So, I would say that the 1966 coup created the instability that we have in the country today. In leadership, there should always be a smooth succession system but in our own case, power was foisted on a generation that was not prepared for leadership.
One would have expected that from 1999 when the Fourth Republic was born that Nigeria would have gained some appreciable stability but it seems we are even retrogressing; so what actually is the problem?
You cannot get everything the same time but you would agree that at least, we have retained democracy. However, we retained it without the benefits of the democratic order. Up till now, our electoral system is a bit crude. Our educational system, we have not also got it right and so on in other sectors. We retained the democratic order without improving the structure that will enable us get the full dividends of democracy. So, now we should work hard to retain it and ensure that the economy is inclusive so that more people will benefit out of its growth. For example, the report that Nigeria has more than 10 million out- -of-school children is terrible. That is the population of some African countries. We have not industrialized, we have not got our electricity right and after privatisation of power, the situation even got worse. So, there are so many things that we are not getting right. Human development is very important and we must get our education right. Education brings human development. Once there is human development through education, other things would follow. Educated people would make sure that their votes count and the electoral system will improve if the people are really well educated. In the First Republic, the education system was good. Even in the Second Republic up till 1983, our education system was good. I do not see why we cannot produce our own cars. The young man, Innoson, we should encourage him. Most of our industrial machines and equipment, we still keep importing them. That is wrong. We should not be importing essential things. Even generators, what is there in it? Generator is not hitech. When we privatised, both South Africa and Egypt resisted the idea, for instance, in their own countries. But in our case, we privatised everything. There are things that you can privatise but not all. In the process of developing, if you privatise everything, there would be a problem because there are services that only the government can still render. That is why most African countries refused to join the privatization bandwagon. In Nigeria, the private sector is not so strong yet; they are still growing and most of those privatised items, the money was raised by Nigerian banks. The so-called investors did not bring their foreign currency. These are portfolio investors. They just buy and sell. We must establish factories and invest in education, agriculture and so on. Our population is increasing so much whereas the economic growth is very slow. If your economy is growing much less than your population, then you are considered to be poor. The poverty rate will increase if your population growth is more than your economic growth and that is a major problem. All these problems would not have been there if the founding fathers of Nigeria were around because they invested much in education. Even in the Northern region then during the time of Sarduana, they invested more than 40 per cent on education. The founding fathers were more prudent and they knew how to invest wisely.
Do you agree with those who insist that President Muhammadu Buhari should be the last retired military leader to rule Nigeria? Those who come up with that argument believe that the military has caused us more harm than good?
The problem of Nigeria is not the military. Gowon was a military leader and he kept Nigeria one for about nine years and he created a lot of developments. I believe IBB did a lot also. They built Shiroro hydro electric, Abuja, Third Mainland bridge and so on. So, it is not a military thing; there are people who can be very good. If you go to the parliament in the United States, you have a lot of retired military officers there. The problem of Nigeria is that we do not seem to look at the background first. You have to look at the background of the person; whether he is progressive, innovative and so on. So, it is not good to say the military is not good. That is not true. There are many military officers who are excellent but have not been given opportunity to show what they can do. It is wrong to generalise that all military officers are bad.
How do you feel about the total closure of our borders when we just recently signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement?
The truth is that we have insufficient number of security agencies to police our borders and a lot of illegal things happen there; a lot of illegal arms come in through our porous borders. There are more than 1000 unmanned borders for crossing to Nigeria and that is very dangerous. So, the closure is not about trading but for security against small arms for instance. We are having Boko Haram, banditry, kidnappers and so on. So, they must find a way of controlling the flow of small arms into Nigeria and I think the border closure is a part of the exercise. Before the president agreed to sign AFCFTA, the Chambers of Commerce and Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) were against it. That was because those other countries will produce goods and come and dump them in Nigeria because we have the population. And in Nigeria, we are not producing enough because we have not got our power supply right. And electricity must be affordable so that our industries would be able to compete in the world markets. But if the cost of electricity and other things are so high, then our products will be expensive. That is why Chinese goods and those of Indians are coming here because they are cheaper than the ones we make in Nigeria. Unless we make our goods cheap and of good quality, we cannot compete. So, there are issues about the AFCFTA. Nigeria is the largest market in Africa and if we open our gate for everybody, our own industries here would suffer.
Some prominent voices in the Middle Belt are saying the zone is no more part of the North, do you share their opinion?
The areas/states which some people describe as the Middle Belt were all part and parcel of the former Northern region of Nigeria before and after Independence. The Middle Belt consists of many ethnic groups and majority of the people in those states are either Christians or Muslims with various history, cultures and traditions; they’re no doubt very patriotic Nigerians. Their sons fought gallantly to keep Nigeria one. I am sure in the foreseeable future, one of them will, God willing, become the President of Nigeria. The Middle Belt whether it’s an idea or geographically defined area, remains a mixed grill of tribes, with rich cultures and traditions and embrace both Christianity and Islam as religion. As Hausa has long become the lingua franca of the people of Northern region even the earlier Christian missionaries found it necessary to translate the Holy Bible to Hausa language. Because of the justice, fairness and equality of opportunity without any discrimination whatsoever provided by the former Premier of Northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto, all the diverse peoples of former Northern region were proud to identify themselves as Northerners and defended Northern interest with lots of passion and determination. There is really no true and absolute consensus of the diverse peoples of the Middle Belt of Nigeria to abandon the former Northern region of Nigeria politically, economically and socially. This much has been confirmed by the elder statesman, Ambassador Yahaya Kwande and former Lagos State commissioner of police, Abubakar Tsav.
Where do you stand on the question of where power should go to after Buhari’s administration? Do you support those who insist it should still remain in the North or those who say 2023 should be for the South?
The process of nation building in a large and ethnically, religiously, culturally and economically diverse country requires that all the component parts of the country make due sacrifices from time to time; they should be tolerant of one another, patient with our institutions of state, all for the sake of establishing a regime of justice, fairness, political stability, peace, unity, security and prosperity which future generations of Nigerians will come to enjoy and even take for granted.
But if we the present generation who make the sacrifices, exercise the due tolerance and patience, God, the All-Knowing and Almighty Creator and Sustainer will surely reward us in His own ways and history will record our such good deeds. And our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will be proud of us and pray for us, years and years after our demise.
Since we became independent, self governing country in 1960 up to 1999, the Northern part of our country retained power in both civilian and military governments for most of the time. Former President Yar’Adua’s tenure was interrupted by his untimely death. His VP, Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as President as provided for by our constitution. President Jonathan hails from Bayelsa State of the South South zone which consists of six states of the minority ethnic groups.
It has to be noted that the minority ethnic groups of the South South zone have been consistent and reliable political allies of the people of Northern part of Nigeria both during the 1st and 2nd republics. Particularly during the 2nd republic, the people of Rivers and Cross River states abandoned both the UPN of Chief Awolowo and NPP of Azikiwe and joined the NPN, a largely Northern Nigeria based party. Had they voted UPN, Chief Awolowo would have won the Presidential election, defeating Shagari. By Rivers and Cross River states voting NPN, the NPN had 7 states’ governors, UPN had 5 governers, NPP had 3 governors, both GNPP and PRP had 2 governors each.
They say one good turn deserves another. As the people of the South South zone had been long time political allies of the people of the Northern part of Nigeria and their son, Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in to complete late President Yar’Adua’s remaining one year, it would have been very uncharitable for the Northern part to deny expression of interest to a sitting President Jonathan in 2011 when the Northern part had been ruling for most of the time since independence in 1960.
So, some of us, the G20 group in the PDP, supported President Jonathan to contest the presidential primaries on the platform of PDP. He contested with former VP Atiku. He won the primaries and went ahead to win the presidential election, defeating Gen Buhari who contested on the platform of CPC. The moral problem of denying a candidate from South South and giving it again to the Northern part in 2011 was, I believe, resolved by God Himself. God loves truth, justice, fairness and being our brothers’ keeper and condemns greed for everything, power, wealth etc.
Therefore, as the Northern part of our country has produced about 9 Heads of State from 1960 to date, let us, we people of the Northern part, for the sake of justice, fairness, much needed political stability, peace, unity, security, progress and prosperity of our great country make sacrifice, exercise self denial and concede political power at the Federal level to our brothers and sisters of the Southern part on the platform of political parties of their choice.The political parties however, must field competent and trustworthy candidates.
Any democratic order without discretion, self denial, sacrifice, restraint, tolerance, patience, common sense and discipline will not be useful and may even lead to chaos.
Those who think/believe that there is no honesty, sincerity, morals/morality, truth and goodness in politics may not find favour and blessings of God the Almighty and all-knowing Creator and Sustainer.
May God Almighty and all-knowing guide all our leaders and stakeholders at all levels along the right path so that they do the right things, good things and the nice things to all our people.
Do you think your party, PDP will be able to upstage the APC in 2023?
So much can change in the next three years. It is too early to project. But the PDP is still the largest party in the country; it is still the most visible party if you go to the grassroots. Anyway, most of the people in the APC today were in the PDP. It remains the most national political party in the country. The ruling party, APC is just about five years old whereas the PDP was established since 1998.
What is your take on the position of some people that APC will cease to exist after Buhari’s second term in 2023? The argument to buttress that is that no other person in the ruling party commands the following that Buhari enjoys.
I would not say that the party will cease to exist after Buhari but the truth is that the president has been the central figure in the party and after him, I do not know whether there is any other leader in the party who would be able to command respect like him. The party would need a father-figure like Buhari and somebody who could get dedicated votes from the North. The APC is lucky to have Buhari who always got more than 10 million votes from the North each time. If Buhari goes, I do not know who in the North, South East, South West, South South now can get it. You cannot get another Buhari in APC.
But some say former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu has that level of followership in his zone?
Do you know that in Lagos, the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar got a lot of votes and he won in two states of the South West. Tinubu may get about 60 per cent of the votes in the South West. You know that in the First Republic, the NCNC of Dr Azikiwe won members in the Western region. The NCNC was very popular in the Western region. The Yoruba are about the most sophisticated electorate in the country and it shows in the way they vote. There are many Igbo people who won elections in Lagos. The Igbo have relatively high population in Lagos and there are many other tribes there also.
What criteria do you think would determine who Nigerians would support in the 2023 presidential election?
The type of candidate that a party fields, is very important. It must be a candidate who would bring the country together, somebody that people could say this man is godly and will do the right thing. He must be a non-controversial, straightforward person who people will believe that he would not be against them. It must be a candidate who will keep the country together and bring about progress and prosperity. He must be a candidate that would be ready to bring development to areas that are disadvantaged. In Buhari’s speech recently, he said there are about four states controlling the economy of the country –Lagos, Rivers, Anambra and the FCT, and we need economic opportunities in all other places. We need proper economic restructuring to extend opportunities everywhere in the country. He must be a candidate that is fair-minded, trusted and has the fear of God. He must also have some track record of associating with other Nigerians. He may not be in the limelight but must be somebody who can work with people from all over the country and will not do anything dramatic against the people. There are many people who can do that. He must be somebody who is not very radicalized. And if you want to reform the country, it should not be just at once. If you reform so quickly, it could be a problem. Any president in Nigeria who would like to do so much, so quickly against the wish of the people will have a problem.