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Interview

Nigeria Not A Failed State - Abdulsalami Abubakar

A former Head of State, General Abdulsalam Alhaji Abubakar, at his residence in Minna, the Niger

State capital, spoke to some Journalists on security issues, calls for another national conference and the 2023 presidency, as well as the commemoration of the 60th independence anniversary of Nigeria. ADELOWO OLADIPO, who was at the occasion, provides excerpts.

Nigeria is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its independence. How would you assess the journey so far?
Since independence, there have been ups and downs. There was a coup in 1966 and a counter-coup. The military came into power and since then, it has been one thing or the other. Of course, during the military incursion, we saw a lot of infrastructural developments that took place within the period and mercifully, in 1999, there was a change of baton from the military to civilian. A democratically elected government came into power and we thank God that in the last 20 years, it has been all democracy.
Then, we had the fortune of having crude oil that was discovered in the Niger Delta area and it is really a main source of foreign exchange for this country. With the discovery of oil, there have been some related problems in the process, with some people in the Niger Delta scrambling for their own part of the benefits from the oil proceeds. And because of the agitation during my administration, though I cannot remember the figure now, I think we gave them about 33 per cent of the revenue; it was allocated to the oil-producing states in the country. I think that measure, by and large, brought a semblance of peace to the area and we could see a lot of developments taking place in the place.
Politically, things are stabilising now, but initially during the military regime, especially during General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida's administration, two political parties were set up and that prepared the ground for the return of democracy in the country. I would say it is so far, so good; we have made progress.
While you were growing up, did it occur to you that Nigeria could become a great nation and are you satisfied with the achievements so far recorded by the country?
One will always hope for the best. Of course, like I said earlier, the military incursion into politics is one issue that will keep reverberating in the history of Nigeria. Independence came with some problems. Remember that basically, there were three autonomous regions in the country: Eastern, Western and Northern regions and there was a sort of keen contest among politicians then; they tried on how each region could develop at their own pace. Oil was not yet discovered and our main revenue earner was agriculture.
In the North, we had the groundnut pyramid and in the West, we had cocoa and in the Eastern region, it was palm oil and palm kernel and so on. By and large, we have had our ups and downs; things will continue to improve.
In which area do you think Nigeria can work on towards attaining greatness?
We must be a disciplined society. It is very unfortunate that there is still indiscipline in the country. People do not obey rules; they do not obey orders; they flout any order you can think of. So, unless we embrace self-discipline, the future of the country may be bleak because there is nothing the government can do besides making rules and regulations for the good of the society. How many people obey the traffic light on our roads? How many drivers make sure that their vehicles are in order? We must have self-discipline as a people. We must make sure that we help ourselves to help the nation move forward.
Economically also, we should stop sabotaging the little the government is doing to ensure there is economic viability. For example, look at what is happening in the Niger Delta, where the oil pipes and gas pipes are being sabotaged and people are also involved in bunkering and so on.
On its part, the government should try as much as possible to provide the wherewithal for the citizens to be engaged in economic activities. We must provide road infrastructure and farming tools. The government should assist farmers by bringing fertilisers, insecticides, pesticides and so on so that we can make life easy for the teeming population to go about in making a living daily.
In the area of security, I think it is very unfortunate that in the last couple of years, we have been engaged in a war on insurgency along with the problem of kidnapping, robbery and others. There is no nation that can prosper with this type of problems. Now, how do we, as Nigerians, assist ourselves? We can do so by really exposing all these miscreants in our midst. On the side of government, we should try as much as possible to prosecute the miscreants and if found guilty, they should be dealt with as provided by the law of the country.
For example, let me talk about power and energy. You find some people, who just go about doing illegal connection of electricity and so on. People do not pay tax; people do not pay the levies they are supposed to pay and at the same time, we expect the government to perform wonders. These are part of the revenues that the government uses to develop the nation and states. And politically, the citizens should be awake to their responsibilities.
What system do you think is best for the country based on what is going on now, as many Nigerians believe that the country achieved a lot in the First Republic?
Before independence, we had a parliamentary system of government but after independence, Nigerians thought that that we could do away with the parliamentary system of government and we decided to go for a presidential system. We have found out since under the system that it is very expensive. And whether we should go back to a parliamentary system is left for us.
Again, there is the proliferation of states from the three regions we had at independence. Today, we have 36 states. There are agitations; everybody wants to have their own states and that is why you have the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). You have also got people agitating for the North Central states; you have got the Urhobo and Arewa and Oduduwa state agitators, wanting to have states of their own. That is not the answer to our situation. I think we have passed that stage. What I think we need to do is to really sit down to see how we can work together as a nation. We should take note that there is an advantage in unity. Nigeria is seen today as the biggest black nation in the world. I believe this way we can make impact in world politics and ensure that we represent the black nations in the world. What we should be concerned with is how to make sure that Nigeria remains one.
Nigerians are clarmouring for a sovereign national conference for the administration of President Mohammadu Buhari to discuss some perceived imbalance in the way the country is being run now. What is your take on the issue?
The issue confronting the nation does not require a conference. Rather, you should ask those who are calling for the conference what they are going to discuss that has not been discussed before. If you visit the archives, there are lots of things that were discussed earlier and recommendations that have been made, how many of them have been implemented? If we sit and talk over and over again, how long will it take us? I think that the government, as a matter of urgency, can ask our parliamentarians or representatives to do us a world of good if we go back to the archives and look at the recommendations of the earlier national conferences so that we can implement them.
You said that the country was ruled shortly after independence by civilians and later by the military and that Nigeria witnessed tremendous achievements. If you were to make a comparison, under which dispensation will you say the country fared better in terms of developmental strides?  
To me, there is no basis for comparison between the military and civilian administrations. All I know or want you to understand is that some achievements have been made. The military made some achievements, while the civilian administration has also recorded some achievements. The democratically elected government is building on the achievements.
The only difference is that in a democracy, you spend a lot of time discussing with people before decisions are taken; and if the decisions are taken, the implementation is another ball game. In the military, you are the commander-in-chief who just gives directives and makes sure that decisions taken are being implemented.  And if they are not implemented, the organisation responsible is dealt with.
So, we would not be fair if we say let us compare the achievements of the military and civilians. Of course, when you asked me, I am a military officer and with the military, I have sympathy a lot. Look at the highways in the country that the military constructed. They are all dead and gone. It is a nightmare now to travel on our roads. Despite our problems, at the national level, I think the country still commands a lot of influence and respect in the comity of nations.
What can you tell Nigerians, some of whom are saying that Nigeria is a failed state? Besides, you have been promoting peace during elections such as what your peace committee did at the threshold of the September 19 governorship election in Edo State.
It takes two to tango. When you say the nation has failed, quota did you contribute? You are pointing accusing fingers at government but, who is the government? It is you and me. What are we contributing in trying to make the so-called failure? As I said earlier, there is indiscipline in all of us. Have we done our citizenship rights; have we done our citizenship duty? Are we obeying the laws of the country? Are we paying our taxes as at when due and so on? Is it the government that has brought or is bringing about the insecurity of lives and property? It is the citizens. So, to answer your question, yes Nigeria has problems. There is insecurity; there is economic challenge and so on. But does that make us a failed nation? In a true sense, I will say that we have problems but, are we on the way to becoming a failed nation? It depends on which side you are coming from and what you are looking for. I agree that a lot of things could be done better. So, if we, as a people, are having a feeling that we are becoming a failed nation, what is it that we are doing that is making us a failed nation and what is it that we should do to get out of this bad situation or assumption?
Is it the government that is causing the breach of peace? Rather, it is Nigerians. Again, the politicians, are they decent? They are our leaders but they are the same people who incite the citizens; they arm political thugs to go and kill themselves. I think for the sake of ourselves as citizens of this great nation, it is absolutely necessary that we maintain peace.
Like you said, we thank God that the election in Edo State has come and gone, and I am sure we have learnt some lessons. I believe the peace we saw in Edo will be replicated in Ondo. Nigerians are getting wiser. Without peace, nothing can be done. I hope that Nigerians will give peace a chance. It is absolutely necessary that there is peace in the country.
As we approach the 2023 general election, there are fears in certain quarters on the unity of Nigeria if the presidency is not taken to the southern part of the country. Do you subscribe to such fears? And how should the government restore sanity to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which your administration midwived?
Let us not delve into the affairs of the politicians. Yet it is our duty to find out what they are doing and also to point it out to them where there are lapses. Before the 2015 general election, what noise did people not make? They said if the then government in power was not re-elected, Nigeria would see doomsday.
Politicians have got their own rules; let us hold them to ensure that they do that at the right time. With regards to the issue of the Niger Delta, we are talking of corruption by our people. It is very unfortunate. Corruption is one of the ills the society is fighting. It will do us a lot of good to fight the cankerworms.
Culled from Nigeria Tribune

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