- Says 2019 will decide the country’s unity
A former Minister of Science and Technology and one time Adjutant General and Commander, Training and Doctrine Command, Major-General Sam Momah, in this interview warned that Nigeria may cease to exist as a country if nothing is done to restructure it. Adding that, Nigeria may soon break up.
Momah who was a minister between 1995-1999 also stated that the 2019 elections will be a watershed that will decide the unity of the country. He said, “We must not gamble with it (2019 general elections), it is a most crucial election. It is a year that Nigerians should decide whether to unite or not, anybody that toils with it, we should disown him.”
He said he won’t loose sleep over the 2019 elections because he is confident that President Muhammadu Buhari will not rig the elections neither will he allow people to rig for him. The retired Army General who turned 75 on July 7th spoke to JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE and others in Abuja.
You were the principal staff officer to General Buhari when he was the GOC of the First Division, how will you rate your former boss now as Nigeria’s president?
I was the principal staff when he was in First Division in Lagos, at that time as a senior officer, I had a lot of regards for him, I still do because he is exemplary. You see this Mr. Integrity they call him today is an upliftment because this is something that is a rare commodity in Nigeria today. It has made him to be a bit outstanding in that he is selfless, humanly incorruptible and so we look up to him as an example in leadership. So I have found him to be very exemplary and has a very spartan way of living. But that is not to say that he is perfect, people have their imperfections, somebody can score high in one area and there are areas that he is not good. But overall, he is somebody that has been very exemplary.
Now that he is seeking second term, what do you advise he do differently if he eventually wins?
Well, I believe that if Mr. President is lucky to win a second term, he must lay a very strong foundation for a modern Nigeria. Nigeria cannot continue to wobble as it is doing now. If Mr. President is lucky or whoever gets there must make sure Nigeria is restructured, restructuring is fundamental.
It was Albert Einstein that said insanity is when you keep doing the same thing the same way and expect a change. If you do the same thing the same way you cannot a get a change. Nigeria has been doing the same thing the same way in the last 118 years or thereabout and we are not getting good result. So, it means that there is need for change in the way we are doing things. This is why some of us are vehement and insisting on restructuring.
But Mr. President is not a fan of restructuring, so what will you say to him?
He has to have a rethink because you don’t put up an edifice on a sandy structure, he is trying to build an edifice but he must have a solid structure for that. And that is why some of us are very very vehement. Which is why I wrote my book some eight years ago “Nigeria Beyond Divorce”, that was where I first made some recommendations that Nigeria must restructure, we must try and do things differently. For instance we have a situation whereby 15 states are almost bankrupt, 27 states cannot pay monthly salary for months, 30 states do not contribute to the pension scheme, 32 states cannot survive on their internally generated revenues (IGRs), only four states are doing that. We have a situation where at least 20 million are unemployed, are these good attributes? Must we continue with these problems? If you have states that cannot pay salaries, you have 774 local government areas, 360 members of House of Representatives, 109 Senators, more than 600 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Do we realize that 89 percent of our revenue goes into paying salaries? So there is nothing left to build our roads, generate our power, build our rail stations, provide water, provide health care, nothing.
When I was in government, Anthony Ani was my very good friend because in cabinet we think alike, we argue. And I use to pop into his office, each time I go to his office you will see him walking up and down his office and I will ask ‘what is it, are you going mad?’ And he will say ‘look Sam, the month is ending and we are looking for money to pay salaries’ because he has to collate the money to pay the entire gamut of Nigeria, all the universities, polytechnics, all the states, local government areas, you know! So the man is just running mad looking for the money. That was when I got to know that Nigeria is actually poor.
So you find that the description that Nigeria is an Island of wealth in an ocean of poverty is the truth. Few people have the money they can buy jet and everybody thinks that Nigeria is rich. But what is the per capita income? So we are poor and we cannot continue this way.
Since 2007, Nigeria has been given this failed state alert, which means that we are on a threshold of becoming a failed state. So, every time we are gliding into becoming a failed state. That is why my current book is ‘Pulling Nigeria off the Brink’. We must pull Nigeria off the brink and to do that you must restructure.
So I’m using this opportunity to advise Mr. President that this restructuring thing is not something that is voluntary, there is no choice about it. I’m reminding him that on the 12th of December 2015, 195 countries assembled in Paris and signed this Climate Change Agreement and by this agreement it means that by 2030, there will be no more use of diesel, petrol or coal. And you know crude oil is the one that is giving us over 80 percent of our revenue today. Now, if the developed world now decides not to buy our oil what do we do? Drink it? Now they are researching on using electric cars, solar cars and so on and so forth. So even if you ride your petroleum cars today, the spare parts who make them? They will stop making the spare parts.
So the situation is critical. I don’t understand why somebody will say we shouldn’t restructure. It is not North versus South issue, it is an issue of survival of Nigeria. I believe we must look at it seriously and this is why my second book is on ‘Restructuring Nigeria Beyond Oil.’ I want to alert fellow countrymen that this restructuring thing should not be politicised. It is a critical thing that must be done otherwise in 12 years time, in 2030, Nigeria will collapse and we may get into a civil war that might take us up to 100 years to get out from. I say 100 years because Sudan has been in war now for 50 years, Eritrea has been in war now for 31 years, Somalia has been in war now for 27 years and these are countries that are less than 30 million in population, less complex Somalia they speak the same language, they are Muslims and yet the war there has lasted for 27 years.
So can you imagine Nigeria with 200 million people, 350 ethnic nationalities with 50 different languages if a war ignites to civil war, it will be total. It will take us to about 100 years to get over it. So, we must not allow that to happen and this is why I say we must restructure. The only solution, the only thing that will make us not to get into this mess or calamity is that we restructure and we do it now that there is little money coming from oil so that we will be able to fast track the system. And one thing I have seen about restructuring is that we have to compress our gamut of bureaucracy. If the states cannot pay salaries, what are you keeping them for? That means you ought to have less states. The solution I gave in my book if it is followed, we will be able to save at least 70 percent of our income and plough it into capital developments – rail, refinery, river basins, healthcare and so on and so forth. Once you do all these, you will create employment, there will be no kidnapping, armed robbery. But if you don’t create employment because you don’t have any capital to use then what else do you have to do than to do what I am saying?
How realistic is it to restructure, asking the existing states to be collapsed when some parts of the country are asking for more states to be created? Mr. President himself does not believe in restructuring because every opportunity he gets he says those asking for it are doing so for selfish reasons. How do you convince such a person?
This is what I am saying, we don’t have to restructure because we like it. If for instance you are in a salary of N50,000 and suddenly it’s cut down to N20,000, all you need to do is see how you can adjust your lifestyle. What I am saying is that it is not a matter of choice because what I’m saying is that if we don’t have the money to sustain this gamut of bureaucracy and right now I’m telling you 27 states cannot pay salaries as at when due and you think this can continue indefinitely? Suddenly we have an increase in the oil price we are selling now just because of Iran. United States government decided to put embargo on Iran so there is a little leeway and there is fighting in Libya. So, maybe in two, three years time this situation may not be there and Iran will start selling oil, Libya may come in and other countries, there will be oil glut and prices may go down to $40 or $30 per barrel, so is that the kind of thing we should rely on?
So, I believe that the essence of this discussion is to really throw up a public debate because what I am saying today is something I will like Nigerians to really take seriously. I’m not saying I know it all but somehow people have not argued for restructuring based on the climate change. That climate change agreement is what has made it imperative beyond our control, that in year 2030 or thereabout, the main revenue of Nigeria will cease to be and when it ceases to be, will we have these 36 states, 776 local governments because we feel that we need them? It is no more what you need but what you can afford, that is what life is coming to. That is what I am saying that, can we afford to have this number of states, local government areas, this number of senators? Why can’t we reduce the senators to 36 and House of Representatives to 108? Because I have the agenda where I believe that Nigeria will need maximum of 18 states, each zone will be divided into three states.
The present states in order to make it will metamorphose into provinces and then this demand for states in the last 2014 National Conference which recommended 19 additional states, if you add it to 36, we have 55 states, these 55 states will be provinces. So if you have 18 states and 55 provinces or thereabouts and remove completely this corruption cesspool they call local government areas, every month you give money to local government areas what have they achieved with it? Can they build culvert? What have they done with that money? I’m just giving you an insight into what I think we should do so that we have enough money to plough into our refineries, refine our products, build our power stations, build our water and river basins, provide healthcare, build our education and all that. Once we do that there will be employment, there will be no kidnapping, no armed robbery, investors will now come and then the economy will boom.
So I find it ridiculous that people are saying we should not restructure, it is not done, we cannot afford not to. Everyday we are restructuring but we don’t seem to realize we are restructuring. When the President came in, he reduced the number of ministries from 52 to 36, it is restructuring. But you see, people have been made to think that restructuring means resource control but it is no more resource control issue. With this climate change agreement, the issues of devolution of power, resource control are minor, it means we cannot survive in 12 years time if we don’t restructure. We must organize ourselves such that if this oil dries up, if it becomes liability, with the little we have we should be able to manage rather than give somebody a job and you don’t pay him salaries for months, does it make sense?
We are approaching 2019 general elections, what are your fears?
Well, I am not so sure what is going to happen. I would have wished a situation where we had a different chairman of INEC. For the first time we are having a chairman that is from the same geo-political zone as the president. But we have to realize that Nigeria is no more a place where people can toy with. Anybody who tries to rig election will bear the consequences. Goodluck Jonathan has set a pace and I salute him for that, I respect him for that, to have voluntarily relinquished power without going to court or doing anything, he has set the precedence and I believe future leaders of Nigeria should try and emulate. And so elections should be free and fair, whoever wins should govern Nigeria with his party.
So, I don’t have fear because I know that President Buhari is not the type that will connive and rig election and whoever does that on his behalf he should be able to disown that person. Let the election be free and fair. I don’t think I will loose sleep, I believe that if we do things the way we should, we use the card reader that has been introduced, I learnt a bill has been sent to Mr. President to assent to about reforming the electoral process, details of that we are yet to know.
So, I believe that everybody should realize that 2019 is a watershed year for Nigeria, it is a year we either make it or mar it, it is a year that Nigeria will decide whether it will remain a nation or otherwise. Because as I am saying, from 2019-2023, it is when the foundation of what I am saying now will be laid. So we should not gamble with it, it is the most important election in Nigeria’s history. 2019 election is the most crucial election. It is a year that Nigerians will decide to join the comity of nations as the train of globalization moves. I believe that Mr. President is patriotic and the issue of Nigeria is what he takes seriously and therefore, I’m pleading that he should have a rethink and embrace restructuring. It is something that will be done in phases and must be worked out. We can’t have restructuring on a piece of paper and somebody just signs, we cannot have restructuring without a national conference. Nigeria in 1914 was amalgamated, this was like a forced marriage, we should on our own decide that we want it. If two people want to get married and they are in love, can you break that marriage? You cannot. So we need to talk. Amalgamation was like a forced marriage and so what we want to do now is consummate that marriage, let’s talk. Nigeria has the potential of being the first black world power and is something we must not throw away. I believe that we must make sure we stick together as a nation, the question of disintegration should never arise. All we have to do now is dialogue and see how we can use the potential that God has given the black race through Nigeria, see how we can harmonize it, maximize it to emancipate the black race.
Each time I go abroad and see the way we are being treated, even when you go for medical treatment they just snigger at you. Of all the African countries only Nigeria is of size to be the world power by our population, so I believe the year 2019 is one we must take seriously so that we can capitalize on these assets and be able to develop them, concentrate on issues that are more important. Leave religion to the people, Nigeria is a secular state why must we get involved in preparing for Muslims or Christians sojourn to their holy land, it is a private thing. In other countries it is a private thing. So, I believe if we start looking at these critical issues we will surely get there.
Federal government declared Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) a terrorist organization but it is foot dragging on declaring herdsmen as terrorists despite their atrocities. What’s your take?
What is good for the goose is good for the gander, so anybody who picks up arms and kills a fellow countryman and terrorizes the society is a terrorist. It is just a question of…even if you don’t call the herdsmen terrorists, the international community is already calling them terrorists. Amnesty International recently came out with statistics to show that 1,813 Nigerians were murdered in six months, between January and June. So the international community is aware of what is happening in Nigeria. So the herdsmen are terrorists, that is what they are and should be classified as such. And my own take in terrorism is that, anybody who terrorizes the society the arm of the law must take care of that person. Whether it is IPOB, Avenger, Boko Haram, herdsmen, the law must take instant care of that person. Anybody who kills must also be paid in the same coin. Period.
Most of these killings are still going on because nobody has been tried and hanged. Cameroon is hanging their own terrorists and nobody is joking with that. It is just that most of these trials in the court of law linger for years unnecessarily, there has to be way of expediting actions because as you are lingering on taking action you find out that more atrocities are being committed and very soon you will loose track. So there should be a special court to try terrorists.
But can government be justified for declaring IPOB a terrorists group?
Why not? Aren’t they carrying arms? They are carrying arms. Arms have been seen with them, they may not show it publicly but when you now wear uniform, a so called man will now come and be taking salute and call himself whether commander in chief or whatever, that is insurrection. We should be more serious and I am advising all those young men in the southeast to get off this terrorists act of trying to confront legal authority. People should look for something lawful to do. You started raising an army on your own, started wearing uniform, you started calling yourself one funny thing, you started issuing instructions to populace what to do and when to do, and you think it’s legal, it is normal and you say it is peaceful? Mahama Ghandi led peaceful protests in India and all he did was that he will just come out, remove his shirt, sit somewhere, at times he will not eat for two weeks, that is what we call really peaceful demonstration or peaceful activism. Not when you now give instructions that on so and so day nobody should come out. So I believe that they have pushed the thing too far and people have freedom of expression not freedom of now taking over government functions.
On a lighter note, you were in the Army at the same time with IBB, Abacha, Obasanjo, Buhari and co. How will you describe your relationship working with them?
The relationship was cordial because in the Army of those days we were members of the same family. It is unfortunate that the coup thing came in, there were coups and counter coups but all the same, in the military you cannot afford to segregate. I still give them my respect those of them that are senior to me and they do the same to me. We are still hoping that the lofty dreams we had about Nigeria will be realized.
So, I will appeal to Nigerians to be less critical of the military because the tendency is to condemn the military in totality. But I can assure you that the most patriotic citizens of this country are in the military because by nature of our training, you must love what you are defending before you can stake your life on it. We are here to defend Nigeria and we are staking our lives, so can you imagine the level of patriotism that we should have? It should be the highest. And this is why you find in the western world they don’t joke with their military men either serving or retired. So, we must also respect our military men and give them the kudos to enable them forge ahead and continue to serve the country patriotically.
You sound so passionate talking about the military and all that, listening to you one can conclude you are disappointed in some things. Any regrets?
As a person I don’t regret my role in the country. I have never really particularly been involved in any coup but what I regret is that as a government that I participated in, we didn’t achieve the lofty dreams that some of us had. You know when you are in a team, you can be a good player but the team may not be good and you cannot do anything about that team. You have to keep on doing your best. That is why I believe that we must try and do the first thing first. All these things are happening because we are not united.
I understand that many people believe we have so many problems; insecurity, corruption, economic problems but our biggest problem is that of unity. If we can fix unity, Nigeria will be fixed. If we can try and do things right to make sure that Nigerians feel like Nigerians, not that I’m from Anambra State, Lagos, Kaduna. No. Put Nigeria first, you are a Nigerian first. But today it is more of your state because the constitution allows it. They will always ask you your state of origin. Some of us believe residence should start overshadowing this state of origin because when you do that there won’t be a question of where you were born, your state of residence after some years becomes your home because that is where you pay your tax.
That is why I said there is need to dialogue, which is why I said the constitutional conference will try and iron it out. If the indices are properly placed, Nigeria will take off. That is why we are talking about restructuring, restructuring is not a physical thing, there are certain things that must be put on the table and once you put them right the country will take off and you will be amazed at how fast we would have moved in terms of being a developed country.
Singapore moved from being a third world country to being a first class country in less than 20 years. So what are we talking about? We can dynamically change Nigeria if we put the right thing in the right places and this can only be done in a conference room and once we agree on how to manage Nigeria, then we take off. First we must be united, talk as one in the comity of nations and be proud to be a Nigerian because once we start doing what we ought to do, you will find that other nations will start emulating us because we will be so proud of our country that you won’t find anybody talking about Biafra or whatever.
So, I believe Nigeria has the potential to be a great nation, a world power if only we do the right thing now and that right thing is to restructure the polity.