SECOND Republic parliamentarian, Dr Junaid Mohammed, is one of the reputable academics in Northern Nigeria.
Mohammed, a renowned social commentator, is of the opinion that President Muhammadu Buhari cannot be intimidated by the Southwest for reassigning the powers he willingly granted Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, pointing out that Prof Osinbajo, like most Nigerians, is tribalistic. He also feels that Mr Babatunde Fowler, the chairman of the Board of Internal Revenue, having reached the retirement age, should not just go, but should be investigated.
In this interview, he also looked at the Igbo and the 2023 Presidency while adding that those Nigerians, who had undermined the country in the gas deal that would cost it a whopping $9.6 billion should be severely punished. Excerpt:
Nigeria has just celebrated its 59th anniversary of Independence, what is your general impression of the celebration?
Well I don’t know…in times like this, my altitude is to be cautious and not to be emotional. I normally prefer to pass judgment on what I know, which is concrete. Yes, Nigeria has celebrated its 59 years of existence and depending on what you are talking about, you may have reasons to want to celebrate. For example, if an animal survives for 59 years, you may want to celebrate. This is because for animals, survival itself is an achievement. But when you are dealing with a human being, whether he is conflicted or not, that may not be much occasion to celebrate. And finally, when you look at the quantum of what we are talking about – and you are talking of a nation – that is not something we really want to boast about. Yes, we have survived in spite of challenges! Yes, the country has emerged more or less intact, but with a very serious economic, security and social problems, I believe that as a nation, we ought have done better. There is also the issue of parameters that you want to pick and assess. When a country is on recession, from all intent and purposes, we may plunge into recession any moment soon, then frankly speaking, I will have to be very careful before making any salutary or celebratory statements about our independence. The Chinese have just celebrated their 70th anniversary and if you have been watching their television stations and what have you, you would see that they have been very busy with celebration because there is something to celebrate…but the same experience, that kind of unique experience of the Chinese cannot be said of our shattered history in Nigeria.
You said that there is not much to celebrate. But in your view, who takes a better part of the blame, the governance actors, the people or the system? Who do we hold responsible and what do we do?
Again, one has to be careful in saying that so and so is responsible for our failures. That altitude tends to be negative. Any time you have reasons to make assessment, to post factors and you start by saying that “Oh, but A, B, C, we would have been better or A, B, C destroyed us or X, Y, Z didn’t give us the proper leadership,” then you are missing the point. I think it is a collective responsibility. It is a collective incompetence, a collective irresponsibility. Other than that, I think it is going to be very difficult to say that so, so and so could have been responsible. And I think that the struggle of the independence in Nigeria ought to be carefully re-examined. For example, I don’t want to make so much noise about how much we fought for our independence. With due respect to the people who were around and who fought for independence, but it has to be said that we got it so easy and on a platter of gold. Again, that has to be put in the context of the circumstances within which we achieved or we were granted independence. At the beginning of the last century, the world found itself at war. There was the First World War and there was the Second World War. And the inter war years from 1915 to 1945 were also equally challenging and so by the time the world was about to settle down, get involved in the noble endeavour of reconstruction, the leading world powers became poor and many of these world powers could not hold to their own colonies. In Nigeria, for example, the cost of administering the Nigerian entity from 1940 to the year of independence in 1960 were very challenging because one, the British didn’t exactly conquer the emirates in the North. They had an agreement with them, look, we would be your colonial overlords and at the same time you remain loyal to us, to the British Queen or King as the case might be and you will be responsible partly for your own maintenance by some taxes, individual poll tax and cattle taxes and what have you. And the same poll tax was applied in the Southern part of the country. Even the merger of the country in 1914 was partly economic, partly for security reasons and partly for reasons of empire and so you can see that there wasn’t that kind of one serious reason why the country had to remain one.
Are you saying these factors probably affected the way we are today?
To a certain extent, but it didn’t justify the way we are today. Because where we are today and the way we are today and how we arrived to where we are today are more or less the irresponsibility of the Nigerian elite. Nigeria elite, I must admit, failed to rise to the challenges of history – that if you have been given something, you are supposed to make it better before you pass to the next generation. Nigeria was handed over to our leaders in 1960 in spite of the opportunities available and they didn’t make the country a better country. I recall that GDP in Nigeria in 1963 was higher than it is today. The level of poverty in the land is higher today than it was in 1960. So, you can see that we haven’t made a good use of whatever was handed over to us. And it was not the fault of the people who handed it over to us. No! Secondly, there is this issue about Nigeria trying to reinvent the way, trying to lie about their problems historically by trying to justify and blame other people. It is not enough to say that after all it was the British colonialists who did this and that or to say that after all it was the military. These people and more could be held responsible, but at the end of the day, where we are today is directly and fundamentally our responsibility.
Recently, we had a crack in the Presidency, manifested in President Buhari asking Vice President Osinbajo to surrender some of the power he was used to exercising. What is your take?
You don’t run a country by assuming that you are entitled to certain powers, certain privileges. You are not! We have a written constitution, which provides enormous powers to only one person – the president. The president has the right to delegate some of these powers to anybody, including the vice president. But in terms of a written authority to exercise certain functions and powers, the vice president in my reading of the Constitution has basically only two powers. One, the vice president is the Chairman of the National Economic Council and that is an occasional meeting – not more than once in a quarter – to discuss general economic policies because we are running a federation. Apart from that, the vice president also is the Chairman of the National Boundaries Commission. Again that harkens back to the issue of running a federation. If you are running a federation, there must be somebody that advises the president or the vice president on the issue of legal borders, even for the purposes of taxation. Beyond these, every single responsibility, which is being exercised by the vice president was at the instance or was the responsibility delegated to him by the president. The president had challenges, and even before he became the president he was not in the best of health, but people did not pay much attention. And so when he became very seriously sick and the Federal Government mismanaged, not the sickness, but the flow of information; they were not at the same level with the rest of the country, they were not telling us the truth, until the man had to stay for 37 days and later again for over 100 days in-between hospitals and the official residence of the High Commissioner in London. Whether he wanted to hand over some or all of the responsibilities, there was just no way we could have a country without a president or somebody exercising the powers of the president. But that doesn’t mean that these powers are or belonged to the vice president as a birthright. No! I believe he (Osinbajo) made some mistakes (in the discharge of this function), but I also believe that on the whole his body language and his verbal expressions did not lead us into a crisis. He didn’t abuse those powers. But, of course, he is a human being, there are certain things that he did. There are allegations that I believe are true, which is that the vast majority of people who got appointments and who are still with him in his office in Abuja today are his tribesmen and members of his Church. Now, you don’t run a nation of over 100 million people with that kind of primitive attitude. Most of them are his tribesmen, most of them are members of his Church. Now, that is not the way you should run a government.
Are you suggesting that he, the vice president has a slight degree of tribalism in him?
Yes, every Nigerian has some degree of tribalism.
But in his own case…?
His own case, I think was too much. This is number one. But the issue was not, in fact, so much that he was tribalistic in the way he ran or exercised his delegated authority, the fact was that when the president decided to re-delegate or reassign some of these authorities vested in the Constitution on the president, some of the people, the same tribesmen or the people from his Church – Redeemed Church – decided to mobilize themselves and turn the thing into a whole scale tribal vendetta on the president. I find that most unfortunate because if a man says go and do this on his behalf, he has the right to withdraw and say I have reassigned it to myself or to somebody else as the law provides. I find the whole attitude from these people rather disgraceful.
Beyond the ethnic factor, there are allegations of financial misdeeds which the president is uncomfortable with. What is your take?
I want to be very careful because I think it is unfair, on my part or on the part of anybody, to want to question the integrity of the vice president without the facts being presented. Somebody has been saying that this man has been taking the Tradermoni and he has done this and that and he is supposed to account for some N90 billion. If that is the case, he should be investigated and he himself has volunteered to wave his immunity so that he should be investigated. This issue should better be handled the way a civilized community, the way a civilized country that has civilized laws should handle this issue. It should not be an opportunity to make some reckless statements. Certainly, the issue of Babatunde Fowler, the Chairman of the Internal Revenue Board, from the word go, this was a controversial appointment. The only reason Fowler was made the Chairman of this board was that he was supposed to have been a classmate of Osinbajo. Those who are blaming Tinubu for the appointment, I am not sure that Tinubu has much to do with it. The man who has been proved to be Osinbajo’s classmate is also the person who has not been able to satisfactorily answer the questions about his charge. And, of course, when the nation is facing the likelihood of a recession, every kobo counts. We have to find out how we can balance our budgets, how we can run our services and how we can manage various ministries, departments and agencies of government well. If they are not running well and we are finding that the amount of money that was being expected are not coming in, then people have the right to ask, including those who are in government. In any way, as we are talking now, the mandate of the man, Fowler has expired and the man should simply go. And even after he is gone, he should be investigated because there are lots of questions to answer. And besides, everybody knows that the Inland Revenue Service and the revenue services of the states are terribly corrupt. So, let us make an example of Fowler and show that whether you are a classmate or a friend of the vice president, you are not above the law.
How does all these play out in the politics of 2023? Could this be a ploy not to return power to the Southwest in line with the arrangement of the APC?
Where is the arrangement? Where did you see the arrangement? Does an arrangement exist? Can you show me any evidence of the arrangement you are talking about? The APC from its own formation has been quiet about the issue of zoning and rotation. PDP is the party that has zoning and rotation, not only enshrined in its constitution, but also the party that takes the principle of zoning and rotation over and above the Nigeria Constitution. If there is something amiss in the so-called arrangement, it is to PDP that you should focus your searchlight on. APC has never admitted and they have never claimed to be going on zoning. But some of them who are ambitious will like to use that, not for the interest of any part of the country, but to achieve their own personal ambition. That is their own look out and I knew that sooner than later this thing would backfire badly. It depends on how they handle it.
And those of you who imagined, like our brothers in the Southeast, that they can put a gun on us all and say give us the Presidency or else, they are wasting their time. It is not going to happen until they do the needful, which is sit down and do their homework. Go round and persuade the rest of Nigerians that the destiny of this country, the wealth of this country, the security of the country, if made available to them, is going to be in good hands. That they are going to be fair, they are going to be more responsible, and they are going to do what perhaps others have not done in the previous administrations. Until you do that, this is the only way you can get the Presidency.
But the Southwest is even more interested in the Presidency come 2023 than the Southeast?
But again, it shows you that the whole thing has nothing to do with performance or being fair….As far as I am concerned, if they, the Yoruba, believe that they have a divine right to have the Presidency in 2023, I think that they are being misguided. I also believe that it may not necessarily be a blessing. It would only, perhaps marginally add to the stability of the party, if they do it well. But part of the problem today as I see it is that they are trying to repeat what they did to the Igbo historically. They would say “well, we are together, we would do everything together”. But when the time comes, they (Yoruba) will simply take their own way and do things to their own advantage. That is their look out and the look out of the Igbo people because apparently the Igbo people do not want to learn from history and that is a tragedy.
What if a Northerner still comes back to take the Presidency in 2023. Would you see that is okay?
That is if the Northerners can get away with it because the hypocrisy and the conspiracy which brought out this zoning and rotation system was a product of Northerners and South Easterners primarily. Two people in particular, Alex Ekwueme and the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and none of them did it for the sake of the country. It was done for the sake of personal lust for power. And as God would have it, none of them is around today to enjoy the conspiracy. So, here we are. And Northerners and Easterners seem to be incapable of coming together for whatever reason. And the South Westerners have been able to one, go and ingratiate themselves not only with Northerners, but with other people and they have benefited well from zoning and rotation than those who started it.
The raging $9.6 billion gas deal order against Nigeria by a UK court. What is your view?
First and foremost, we should challenge the judgment. Secondly, anybody who has the least involvement or responsibility in this nonsense which is going to cost us nearly $10 billion, anybody who has any hand, through acts of omission or commission, should be jailed. And let me make it absolutely clear, when it comes to this, I am prepared to see heads roll. A nation of 200 million people cannot afford this amount of money. How much money do we have in our foreign reserves? And can we afford this utter recklessness? No, we cannot! So, we should take the issue on a number of fronts. One front is to challenge the judgment and see what happens. The next one is to make it clear to the British Government and the British judiciary, which can also be corrupt, that we are not going to take this. We should make it clear that our relationship with Britain, commercial, security and others, would depend on how they finally resolve this problem. We are not a rich country and we cannot deceive ourselves. I believe that this could not have been done without the full knowledge and cooperation of Nigerians. Nigerians who are prepared to go this far to undermine their country economically and otherwise deserves to die.