By Desmond Mgboh, Kano
Junaidu Mohammed, former parliamentarian, Russian-trained medical practitioner, leading critic on national politics and National Chairman of the Peoples Salvation Party (PSP), is a man that loves confronting issues passionately, frankly and decisively.
In this interview held in Kano, he speaks on President Jonathan’s outburst on being the most criticized president in the world, Dr. Barth Nnaji’s resignation, Chief Doyin Okupe’s failed contract in Benue State, and the CBN’s N5,000 note. He also speaks on big men’s sons fingered in the fuel subsidy racket, and Prof. Akinyemi’s call for quota representation for non-indigenes outside their states. Excerpts:
Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan said he’s the most criticized president in the world and hopes he will end up the most loved president. Do you make of that?
Frankly, if I had a say in drafting your questions, I wouldn’t have asked you to put this question to me. If you look at the issues we are confronted with in this country: issues of national security, economic near meltdown, bungling of economic policies, constitutional amendment, the very nature of the Nigerian State, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, the dichotomy being introduced into indigeneship and citizenship, and the rights attached to it, I would have thought there are more important issues to worry about than the perception of the president being criticized and being loved somewhere along the road.
As far as I am concerned, if you are in politics, you are there to be criticized because we are practicing democracy, or at least, we imagine that we are practicing democracy. And if you don’t want to be criticized, then don’t come into public life. If you are in politics, you are there to be criticized, unless of course, you want to be a dictator which is a different thing entirely.
To me, it is utterly irrelevant what Jonathan thinks about himself and how he rates himself vis-a-vis other presidents. I dare say that if he is talking about other presidents, he must be talking about democratically elected presidents, people who came to power by way of free, fair and credible elections. I certainly do not believe he came to power that way. I do not believe his party is a democratic party.
For him, looking at a crystal ball and saying he is going to be the most loved president in Nigeria, well, we will wait and see. For all I care, whether he is loved or hated, Nigerians are going to assess him on the basis of policies he put in place. And secondly, on the kind of personnel he brings to government and how they performed. So, the thrash of being loved or hated is immaterial, it is his policies that will carry him through history.
But, do you think some of the criticisms are valid or are mere hangovers of a hate mindset?
Well, you have to tell me the criticisms and state the specific policies for me to be able to respond.
For instance, he has been criticized over the economy and the security challenges, but he is saying some of these problems did not start with his presidency?
How long have you been living in Kano? I hope long enough to know the difference between the Kano of when you were growing up and the Kano of today. You cannot tell me that the Kano of those days and today are the same experience.
Number two, the sense of belonging of the average Nigerian cannot be said to be the same, particularly from the time he became president of Nigeria. In my entire life, for instance, I have never seen or heard a man come out openly to abuse other Nigerians on the pages of newspapers the way Edward Clark does with ease, the way so many other people from the so-called South-South do? If that is not different to you, then it is different to me. I know that Nigerians do have their own stereotypes; they describe other Nigerians in pejorative terms. But I have never seen it done openly, systematically like it is being done now by individuals close to the president. And if that is not an unhealthy development, then I don’t know what is. And it started squarely, squarely I repeat, with President Jonathan.
Secondly, Nigeria, like any other country, has gone through economic hard times. But whenever the country was in trouble, the government takes the trouble to explain to the people, rightly or wrongly, but they did at least make efforts to explain to the people. They will not put forward a very flippant Governor of the Central Bank, who has assumed the role of economic spokesman of the government, to start insulting people. When the people say there is something they don’t like about an economic policy, this boy says it is irreversible. There is nothing in a democracy that allows for this kind of foul response from an appointed person, who has never won an election and will never win an election. This is the kind of boys put forward as spin doctors and spokespersons for economic policy, which clearly is not working.
Now, if this is the kind of thing you think is good and for which we must praise Goodluck Jonathan, then tough luck. You can assume, for example, and you can say rightly that he did not appoint Lamido Sanusi as Governor of the Central Bank. I will agree with you. But today, he is the President of Nigeria and the Governor holds his position at the pleasure of the President of Nigeria – he can sack the Governor of the Central Bank tomorrow and can dissolve the Board of the Central Bank and get rid of the Governor and the Deputy Governors.
I believe what the Senate intended to do to tame this arrogant man by amending the Central Bank’s decree was childish and it is a way of personalizing lawmaking. You do not make laws for an individual; you make laws for the entire country. If they really wanted, they should first pass a vote of no confidence on the Governor and then insists within their own party or within the National Assembly that he must be sacked. They did not do that. They kept quiet for whatever reasons and now we are stuck with it.
The President’s wife is sick, but there is total silence about it. History is replaying itself somehow. Jonathan’s group, which sought openness in the handling of the late President Yar‘Adua’s health, is not providing information on Dame Patience’s health.
A system is a system. And if you want to make amendment or anything, please go to the system. When Turai was playing Russian Roulette with the destiny of 150 million Nigerians, many of us said the woman was not elected. People who have not gone through the crucible of election and winning have no business determining the fate of a country, or our destiny.
The idea of a so-called First Lady is not even in our constitution. It is easy for any charge and bail lawyer to take this matter to court and establish that the idea of First Lady is not in our constitution and is therefore, unconstitutional. How do you allow women who have not won election – many of them do not even have the characters you can look up to as role models – how can these women who accidentally married their husbands, not knowing what destiny had in stock, simply emerge and assume certain powers, and these powers are to the detriment of the entire country? The idea of the so-called First Lady should be quashed and no budgetary allocation should be allowed, because when you appoint somebody to spend money, which has been appropriated by the National Assembly, by definition, you are holding him accountable because the National Assembly can always call and question him.
The way we have it the money we have for the First Lady is appropriated under the budget of the Presidency and the President now decides to allocate billions of naira to the First Lady and she has the freedom to spend it the way she likes. That, to me, is not a democracy.
Are you saying she is not a national asset and we should not bother ourselves with her health conditions?
No, no! That is wrong. She is a Nigerian and a citizen. In a country that is running a proper democracy, what affects the mood, the lifestyle, and comportment and composure of the president should be of consequence to all of us. But to now spend valuable time, valuable treasure and even valuable pages of newspapers and radio time discussing the health of one woman out of a country of about 75 million women is to me, perverse, irresponsible to the extreme and shows that Nigeria doesn’t have priorities as a nation.
I certainly want to see the First Lady in good health. And I think, basically, she is not as offensive in nature as Turai, for example. I find her rather easy-going, pleasurable and full of humour. But please, we must learn to differentiate what I called the affairs of state and affairs of whoever is president. This woman is the responsibility of the president as a family man. If today he decides to sack her as his wife or not, that is purely his business.
Former Minister of Power, Dr. Barth Nnaji, has resigned, but the suggestion is that he was doing something good in the ministry. But if he was doing something good, why quickly accept his resignation?
Well, I am glad you have touched on an interesting aspect of mis-governance in Nigeria. For example, as a matter of courtesy, it is not a legal matter; it is a matter of courtesy. Once you appoint a person, as the president you do not accept his resignation or dictate his resignation readily. You must go through the facts and must be convinced that there is something that warrants the person resigning, and warrants you to accept his resignation; because it is one thing for you to resign and another for your resignation to be accepted. You have power to refuse to accept the resignation.
Number two, in making certain critical appointments, you first put merit on top and then anything is secondary, whether you call it Federal Character or loyalty or a sense of appreciation towards a governor or somebody else.
Now, I don’t know this Barth Nnaji. All I can say is that given what I know about my own power situation here in Kano, I am not appreciative of his performance as Minister. Whether he speaks grammar, whether he is a better engineer in terms of power generation and distribution than any individual, I don’t care.
What I know is that I have not seen the improvement I had expected; given the amount of money spent in the sector from the time General Obasanjo started lying that he would give us reliable power in six months to the present day. Of course, during the rainy season, there was some kind of improvement largely because the Niger Dam had enough water to move the turbines and therefore, generate certain optimal level of power. But beyond that, there is nothing to explain what this man has done. I heard he likes publicity and likes coming on television to talk. But I have seen no improvement.
That is beside the point anyway. Having determined that he was good enough to be appointed minister, when it comes to sacking him, we have to be sensitive to certain basic requirements. Has he done anything to warrant being sacked? Was he actually pushed or did he jump? The sources I have at my disposal actually told me he did not jump, he was actually pushed. He was asked to submit his resignation letter. And the question is, what did he do to warrant that kind of shabby treatment? Nigerians don’t have a reputation of resigning from their jobs. It must be a sack.
Now, if it was a sack, what did he do? If it was a sack, he must have done something criminal, because we know how the power sector is being parceled out to Generals. Companies in which Obasanjo has interest, Abdulsalami Abubakar has interest, other Generals have made biddings for some of the portions of power, which is being unbundled and taking off. If this man has been fingered, then you take him to court rather than ask him to resign.
The CBN had proposed a N5,000 note. What is your reaction to this proposal?
I have not seen any reason why the Governor of the Central Bank wants to introduce this denomination of the Naira. Let me tell you, my understanding is that economics is a highly speculative science and people who think if they are dealing with economics they are dealing with a reality, which is immutable and cannot be changed, are talking nonsense. We are not talking about religion. We are talking about a science that is on the border line between science and arts.
Those who believe we need a N5000 denomination should tell us why we need it. They should tell us examples and areas where this had been done and what the benefits were. If, for whatever reason, the millionaires in government and those on appointment like the Central Bank Governor, find themselves in a situation whereby they think it is too clumsy to hold a 50, 100, 500, 1000 Naira notes for easy transactions, they should please leave the country or stop dealing in Naira, and use the dollars they have been using anyway! I have been to parties in Lagos where people holding government positions spread dollar bills on the faces of people dancing.
And I know for a fact that this boy in the CBN boasts to his friends that when he likes, he does his transactions in dollars! And there are many other Nigerians so privileged to do so. But if the average Nigerian feels the N5000 note is a bad idea, in a democracy, he should listen and their wishes should be respected. And if their leaders – and I have seen quite a lot of people I cannot write off easily, people like Tinubu and others, who are leaders of thought in their own respective areas, political leaders, and those who have been in government on both sides – legislative and executive – saying this is a bad idea, that it is insensitive, then I think it will be reckless to allow a person (CBN Governor), who was never elected and has never won an election even when he was in school, to say there is no going back.
And for the president to copycat that kind of statement is utter recklessness. You cannot run a democracy and pretend to be undemocratic. You either are a democrat or you are not. The way this government is trying to ram the N5000 note idea through our throats, and yet they are not giving the people any coherent example, rather they are only saying there is no going back, is in my view, insulting, and speaks volume of the kind of characters we are either appointing or electing into positions of trust in Nigeria. And this is a tragedy.
But this same Governor of the Central Bank had in the past enjoyed your positive commentary. Where did things start getting bad?
Never! I have never said anything positive about him. Go and bring your notebooks and your tapes. The last time you spoke about his appointment, I said Yar’Adua was misadvised and mis-guided. And I am sure Yar’Adua, not being an economist, and certainly not knowing anything about the responsibilities of a Central Bank Governor, and also being a very bad judge of character was misadvised and should never have appointed this boy. However, having done so, all of us will live to regret the consequences.
I said that first he does not understand the limit of his responsibility as a Central Bank Governor and I also told you that – if I remember correctly – you will require certain character profile to be a Central Bank Governor. This boy talks too much, he is in love with his voice and he hungers for publicity. That has been his life. For all I care, this boy was not fit, does not have the basic requirements to be governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. And by talking too much, he is rubbishing the institution of the Central Bank and I said no Governor of the Central Bank talks as much as he does.
And I gave example of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in the United States, Professor Ben Benanki, and King, who was the Governor of the Bank of England, which is an institution, and I said if we are building an institution, we should never have appointed people with this character. I have said this boy is not good and I challenge you to bring a single sentence where I said this boy was good.
Okay, let us leave Sanusi out of this and go to other questions…
(Cuts in) It is not a question of Sanusi. It is a question of his policy. Why must you impose a certain denomination of your currency when a vast majority of the people is opposed to it? It is not an issue of Sanusi. I don’t bloody care about Sanusi Lamido.
The subsidy probe has led to the prosecution of children and relatives of those in power. How do we look at the fact that some of them may have used their positions to get their children to steal us dry?
My dear Desmond let us stop deceiving ourselves. It is not their children; it is they, themselves, using their own children in very reckless manner as decoys, as fronts or as cut-out in these deals to steal us dry. Who is Bamanga Tukur’s son to go and dictate to either the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) or to the Minister of Petroleum, or to some of these people in the Presidency, because some of the decisions on the petroleum subsidy issue could not have been taken by the Minister? They had to be approved by the very top.
So, you might ask: who are these small, small boys? What have they done in their lives to get these privileges? You are about their age, why aren’t you getting the same kind of privileges? If those in government are liars, must we follow their lies? You know very well that it is Ahmadu Ali himself, Bamanga Tukur himself who are involved in all these dirty deals.
But here, let us get at the real issue. When some of us raised the alarm that the whole idea of subsidy is nothing but a bunch of lies and that there was nothing like subsidy, the Governor of Central Bank and other people not only said there was subsidy, but gave us the amount of subsidy they were spending. Now, they are quiet! Where are they now? Let them come and tell us who was getting the subsidy fund.
You create a system that allows people to become filthy rich for themselves, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. And now you say this system is only good because it is giving us an opportunity to be a welfare state or to expand the benefits of the oil revenue across the board, blabla bla! Now, the whole thing has proved to be a huge lie.
Minister of petroleum lied, Governor of Central Bank lied, resign? If you now go into the issue of printing the Naira, let me tell you, you will find there is a vested interest at work, either that of the Governor of the Central Bank, or somebody in the Presidency or somebody close to the Presidency or a big wig in the PDP. That is how the PDP runs itself.
Back to the question, don’t deceive yourself that these small boys, who came out of nowhere are going nowhere, as far as their individual achievements are concerned. When you want to address the whole issue, you should go and confront Ahmadu Ali, former chairman of the PDP now aspiring to be chairman of BOT go and attack the current Chairman of the PDP, Bamanga Tukur, and others like him. I know of a state nearby where one of Bamanga Tukur’s children went and got a contract, and when they were threatening to determine the contract, he started boasting that he was going to raise hell.
It is a PDP state and they went ahead to determine the contract and there was nothing the boy could do. But we are aware of efforts by Bamanga Tukur to undermine the governor, even though he could not succeed because the governor is independently powerful in his own right and has a base unlike Bamanga Tukur. Let us stop deceiving ourselves. These boys are running errands for their fathers and they are making money for their fathers. For all I care, if you are prosecuting a small boy, who cannot differentiate between his left and right, you are wasting your time.
If you want to prosecute, you go for the big guns and those of them involved in it should not only be prosecuted, they should leave the public positions they are holding. Ahmadu Ali’s son is one of the chairmen of a federal board or so. He should be asked to resign. If Ahmadu Ali is holding any position, he should be asked to resign. Bamanga Tukur too should go, I know their moves to get rid of him anyway, but that is not my point here. What I am saying is that he should be made to answer for his own indiscretion.
What is your response to the allegations against Chief Doyin Okupe, and the argument that he lacked the moral basis to hold public office because he failed to execute a particular contract in Benue State years ago?
It is very interesting. I knew of a time when Obasanjo wanted to physically assault him in the Presidency and there was a time in my presence, when Chief Okupe was being warned by the National Security Adviser, General Abdullahi Mohammed, that if he was not careful, he was not only going to get him sacked, but was going to jail him. He had described him in very tough words.
And if you know General Abdullahi Mohammed, he is very soft-spoken, a gentleman of very few words. For Okupe to really get him so enraged to respond in such a manner, it must have been a very serious offence. I was not surprised when some months after, Okupe was publicly sacked.
Addressing the question, this again is the issue of Nigeria and the PDP. There is no morality in their understanding of statecraft. Their philosophy is “never get caught”. Once you don’t get caught, there is no problem. That is the end of the story. If Okupe had kept his bloody mouth shut, perhaps, he would have gotten away with what he did. And many people perhaps, would have forgotten about it. This is one of those things you forget, like bad debts in the bank, under the PDP.
But Okupe found new confidence in his new role as a hired ‘attack dog” of the Presidency and the man who facilitated his getting that job was Reuben Abati. Reuben was never in the public life, he has never won an election and so he misadvised the president on that. But if the president was serious, it would have been difficult for like Reuben to mislead him.
And having misled him, and they were found out, Reuben should have thrown him out of the window with Doyin. But typical of the PDP, nothing is going to happen. Okupe will not be punished and that money will never be recovered and the people of Benue will suffer the loss.
Another interesting development is that the governor, who gave Okupe the contract, was then in the PDP and was a sitting governor of the party. Now, that governor is with the ACN and he now knows both sides of the equation. And that is why, for the first time in Okupe’s life, he is learning to keep quiet because everybody knows his background on this issue. But you did not need the latest scandal in Benue. There are, of course, other scandals around that fellow. That such a fellow has now gotten access to the president and is still working in the Presidency is, to me, the biggest disgrace in the way we run government in this country.
Different nationalities in Nigeria are on the march again for some form of self-determination. The South-West wants regionalism, and parliamentary system, some Northern states like Kano have coats of arm, in fact, are tracing and warming up their family roots with Niger Republic; the Ogonis are seeking self-determination just as Bakassi people wants independence. MOSSOP is making some noise, though they are not yet ready for a bloody noise. Where will all these take us?
These calls are not original. They are not inherent in these people. They are merely manifestations of a failed state and Nigeria is definitely a failed state under President Jonathan. What these people are saying is that they have had a raw deal. I am not sure about the Yoruba demand for an Oduduwa Republic, I don’t know. But others, yes, I have a feeling they have not been treated fairly by the Nigerian state. In a democracy, they have a right to agitate.
For all I care, when the states were created in 1967, most of the states had their own coats of arm. I remember General T. Y. Danjuma, then Chief of Army Staff, speaking on behalf of the Supreme Military Council, who said all these things should be swept aside and the idea of any state having its own coat of arms was not ideal for federalism. Now, the issues are coming back to light because politicians are looking for issues to raise and then blackmail the Federal Government. If you want to resolve the issue of people feeling alienated, do them justice. As long as there are injustices, there will be this kind of demands. The Ogoni secession thing is like a suicide. I think if they are determined to commit suicide, good luck to them.
The MASSOB people are a little more sensible, even though I don’t think they have been fairly treated, particularly by the police and the security services. But for whatever reason, I certainly will never support the idea of somebody creating trouble for other innocent people to die. The Nigeria Civil War cost the Igbo at least one million lives. I would hate to see a single soul killed in the name of agitation for either Oduduwa Republic or another Ogoni Declaration. If they play it on the pages of newspapers, fine. It may be fun, it may be a joke. But if they start taking arms and the Nigeria state comes with the Federal might to crush them, then they will have themselves to blame.
And I have no doubt in my mind that the one in the South West will remain on the pages of newspapers. I don’t believe the South-West people are serious, because if they start trouble and they have a head-on collision with the Nigeria State, they have a lot at stake because they are the most developed part of Nigeria. Lagos itself is 40 per cent of the Nigerian economy, and our GDP. And if you want to really mess up Lagos, just bomb one interception of the Third Mainland Bridge and the whole economy of Lagos will come crashing. Secondly, the South West, especially the Lagos economy, is not a productive economy. It is an economy mostly based on currency speculation.
Compare Lagos with what is happening in the so-called Niger Delta, especially Rivers, which is the most developed, you can see clearly that these are the people bearing the brunt of the ecological problems and this are the people enjoying the money and making noise about it.