Former Minister of Education, Birma Dauda has called on Northerners warming up to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023 to perish such idea, as he said, power will rotate to South. Speaking with VINCENT KALU, the elder statesman emphasised the need for restructuring and devolution of power to states.
What is your view on the state of the nation?
We have never had it as bad it is today. Insecurity is all over the place and there is no part of Nigeria that can boast of being secure. Of late there have been concerns over lack of insecurity, and I believe certain things are being done; it is too early to comment on the efficacy and other wise of the efforts being made.
In the Northeast, Boko Haram has been defeated, but the nature of insurgency is that, when you think you have conquered everything, they look for soft targets to attract attention; to attract publicity to terrorise people. The most frightening one is the Northwest, where bandits go from place to place killing people at random. Even animals only kill what they eat; they don’t kill for the fun of it. There have been hues and cries about it and I think it is too early to comment on what is being done about this.
We are not living in ordinary times; we are at war. The war is particularly targeted against Northern Nigeria because all these things happening are either in the North or in association with some Northerners. If you look at Boko Haram, it is a Northeastern thing; the banditry in the Northwest and when you talk about Fulani- farmers crises, it is from people who come from the North or outside the North, but it is in the North. It can be said that the nation is at war and there is no part of the country that you can say is actually safe. I know that the government is taking a drastic action and we can look forward to the next one month or two and see the result of their efforts in containing these heinous crimes. What is happening is there is frightening, and it all means that there is war against Northern Nigeria. Northwest is the vote basket of everybody who wins election and if Northern Nigeria is to be destabilised, it means the stage is the Northwest. It is very unfortunate because it looks like the very source of livelihood of the people is destroyed; people cannot go to farms, they cannot rear their cattle because of fear of what is going to happen to them. If you to other places, take for instance, the Fulani-farmers clashes, the herders are presumed from the North because they are Fulani; when you point accusing fingers at the perpetrators, it is Northerners, and this is pitting the North against the South; the Muslims against Christians. The government should rise to the challenges and restore security in the country. When you talk of banditry, you also talk of kidnapping and all manners of crimes which are happening, we can then conclude that we have never had it as bad as it is today. We can only hope that the authorities wake up to the situation and remedy it before it gets out of hand.
The other week, some Northern youths protested the level of insecurity in the region, and the government went after their leader. In the same vein, the Northern Elders Forum attacked the government for failing curb the security problem in the area. Do you share with their views?
The protest was very legitimate because their children were not safe, their parents were not safe, and the totality of the economy. The demonstration was quite alright because people have to draw the attention of the authority where it has gone wrong and where there is laxity and where people’s expectations have not been met. I don’t think what the youths did was wrong. Whoever that advised the government to arrest the leaders isn’t a friend to the government. Arresting them was wrong because when they protested, even the commissioner of police showed that he was sympathetic and appreciated that the fact that their demonstration was peaceful. I don’t conform to the government in arresting the leaders. However, the government responded immediately by releasing the leaders. That type of response was appropriate, because if you don’t give people the chance to protest peacefully, then you are inviting chaos. Those who demonstrated have shown maturity and patriotism, and the government should encourage dialogue. When people are not happy, they should demonstrate peacefully and the government should appreciate these people as friends of the government and not the enemy.
The so-called Northern Elders, who are not Northern elders, are just a group of people who have grouse against Buhari; who want to make a point, so they have spoken. The matter has been brought to rest not because of them, but because common sense prevailed.
As a way of addressing the problems facing the country, former Kaduna State governor, Balarabe Musa, recently called for restructuring of the country and breaking it down into six zones, which should be the federating units. What is your position on this?
I agree with restructuring, but where differences exist is the point of view of the various people talking of restructuring. There is no unanimity, and people have not come together to aggregate these views so that we agree as to what restructuring means. For example, the Southwest is talking about going back to the 1963 Constitution, which talks about the North, the West, the East, and later the Mid West. What used to be the Northeast is now made up of six states and what was known as the Northern Region is now made up of 19 states. Do you mean you would jettison everything and go back to the North, West, East and Mid West situation? We should get a few of us and let us forge a consensus.
Generally speaking, in the South, they are talking of tribe, but in the North we are not talking of it at all because if we are talk of tribe in the North, we have not less than 250 tribes; are these people going to say that we will have 250 entities. However, if you go to the East, the five states in the Southeast speak one language because they are all Igbo. The six states of the Southwest are all Yoruba, and speak on language.
On restructuring, much as there is no consensus, we first of all must decide what restructuring means. I approach it from the point of view of devolution of powers. So many things have been loaded on to the federal government, which has made the common person too far away from government. So, we must as much as possible, bring certain responsibilities that have been attached to the federal government to the various states. A lot of people are talking of local policing; I see no reason Prison should be the Exclusive right of the federal government; Education should be the primary responsibility of the various states. For example, there is one national policy on Education that embraces Imo, Delta, Anambra, Ogun; it also embraces Zamfara, Kebbi and so many states, which are so backward in education. We must hand over Education to the various states, so that they design an education policy from the point of view of their locality. If we say that Imo, Delta and Ogun must be under the same umbrella with these states in the North, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and we shall fail. Western education got to the South more than 100 years before it got to the North. The first Yoruba lawyer was called to the bar in 1876, while the first Northern lawyer was called to the bar in 1964; you can see there is nearly 100 years difference between when the North produced first lawyer and when the South produced first lawyer. Much as we are in one country, we have divergences. Missionaries set up schools in the South; Christianity and missionary schools were accepted in the South, but they were totally rejected in the North. It took a lot of efforts to get people to send their children to western school because at that time, the North looked at education as Quranic education, but this Quranic education didn’t get them jobs in the civil service. These people got this type of education, but it didn’t give them jobs. People are being persuaded now to embrace western education. I’m glad it is being achieved, even though it may be slow. When you hear the word, ‘Boko Haram’, it was coined by people who held that western education is anathema and should not be embraced. If today, in 2020, there are people who say western education is anathema and should not be embraced then you know we have a problem in the North.
Therefore, restructuring is a must; we must decide and achieve common ground in restructuring, not by shouting at each other; not by denigrating each other or insulting each other because of our differences. In a country of about 200 million people, don’t be surprised if you have 200 million opinions on this. My opinion is that we should approach it in a manner in which we take certain time and talk about it. This is not a military government, but a civilian government; let us involve our legislators both at states and at federal levels. We have machinery now; we have elected people and let us stop pretending that by shouting ‘restructuring’ on the pages of newspapers and social media, we will have it. We must talk to each other politely, gently and persuasively, so that we have a consensus.
Talking about restructuring, some people are calling for the implementation of 2014 Confab report, what is your take on this?
I was a member of the Dialogue Committee, headed by Senator Okurounmu, which midwifed the 2014 Conference. We spent four months gathering information; you would be surprised the extreme position people have taken. I’m not against that report, let it be presented to the National Assembly because the members represent us, and the sovereignty on making laws is vested in them. Let the president send it to them, and let us hear from them. I’m not an advocate of a wholesome rejection of it, because if for instance it is a 1000-page document, you can discover that two or three good things could come from it, and may be worthwhile. Energy has expended on it, money was spent on it, and other resources. Let us take a look at it, but for anybody to regard that as sacred and sacrosanct document, it won’t work that way because I know that document.
Leaders of Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF and Middle Belt, last month dragged President Buhari to court over lopsided appointments and others. How do you react to this?
They are entitled to defend their areas. Maybe, they want a negotiated persuasion where the president takes a second look at what he is doing. It is better to jaw jaw than to war war. When people say they have grudges to address, it is incumbent on the president to look at what they are saying and see whether it makes sense or not.
But my problem is with hypocrisy, when it comes to appointment at political level, people talk of lopsidedness, but when it comes to civil service from bottom to top, you find out that if you calculate the 19 states of the North, they do not occupy enough to cover up what one state in the South covers in terms of manpower, privileges. We should look at the totality of the economy, the extent to which the North is excluded. Take banking, insurance as instance; there should be a holistic view in federal character, not only talking about general officers commanding this and that, chief of staff and things like that. Yes, this is the cream at the top, but what about the bottom. One fault doesn’t remedy another fault.
Afenifere represents Yoruba interest, Ohanaeze represents Igbo interest, and so if they felt shortchanged, they can protest. You don’t condemn any protest so long as it is not violent. What makes me laugh is the body that calls itself Middle Belt Forum. Where is the Middle Belt? Some members of that Middle Belt Forum are from Borno State; some of them are from Zamfara. Therefore, Middle Belt of where? It is a group of people who believe that they are Christians, who do not want to belong to the mainstream North. So, when the North talks, they want to isolate themselves. For instance, the chairman of the Middle Belt Forum is from Chibok, Borno, which is extreme Northern Nigeria; therefore, I don’t take them very seriously. I’m from Garkida, a town that has both Christian and Muslim, and nobody has ever talked to me about membership of the Middle Belt Forum because I’m a Muslim. You find out that exclusively, it is people who want to make as much noise as possible because they are Christians, who called themselves Middle Belters. I don’t take them seriously. I don’t deny anybody the right to protest, to bring forth grievances and say let us look at them.
You mentioned the financial sector; banking, insurance, but these are individual drives?
When you have a federation, people should be allowed to participate in all things and when they are not, they feel alienated. We talk about all of these things; as we talk about the commanding structures of administration, we should also look at the bottom and the economy, so that we endeavour to bring everybody to participate in the Nigeria project. If people believe that they are excluded from the Nigeria project at whatever level, it is dangerous.