…Says ‘We documented OBJ’s anti-North actions’
Prof Ango Abdullahi, an outstanding academic, researcher, agriculturist and former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria between 1979 and 1986, also served as Special Adviser on Food Security to President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2003. Abdullahi, who will be 74 in December, was barely 22 years old and was warming up for admission into the only Nigerian university in Nigeria at the time the Union Jack was lowered and the Nigerian flag hoisted in 1960.
Although he is not a politician per se, he remains a potent force in Nigeria’s socio-political arena, having taken part in all the major political restructuring programmes in the county: he participated in the constitutional conferences of 1987-1988 called by Gen. Ibrahim Babagida, 1994-1995, assembled by Gen. Sani Abacha and the 2005 Constitutional Conference convened by President Obasanjo, all in a bid to move Nigeria forward.
Apart from currently serving as Pro-chancellor of Bauchi State University and the newly established Federal Government-owned Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Abdullahi is also the spokesman for the Northern Elders’ Forum, NEF, a think-tank for the 19 northern states and a source of inspiration and hope for the younger generations of northerners and Nigerians because of his leadership acumen.
In this interview, Abdullahi speaks on what made Nigeria tick, where it derailed and what could be done for the country to regain its lost glory.
Where were you at the time the Union Jack was lowered and the Nigerian flag hoisted in 1960?
I was just about to start my university education at the University College Ibadan, which was by then a college of the University of London. In fact, we were the last batch of Nigerian students to graduate from the college under the University College platform. I would say in 1960, we were just mature students in tertiary institutions, which were not many at the time.
In fact, what we had then was just the University College Ibadan, the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology-one here in Zaria, another in Ibadan, one other in Enugu. We were very much alert about Nigeria’s independence and we knew precisely what Nigeria was getting into with the advent of independence. Besides, our forefathers had told us clearly that Nigeria would become a great nation with the advent of self rule and we were therefore very expectant and ready to savour the new regime brought about by the occasion.
They had told that the land would be flowing with milk and honey for everyone. These were some of the aspirations and hopes that came out of the elders who were then our leaders at the federal and regional levels and we believed them.
So, 1960 was a year of very big hope not only for Nigerians but also for other Africans given the position Nigeria was holding and is still holding in terms of population, size, resource potentials and as the largest black nation in the world.
I would say it was something of happiness for all Nigerians because the actual growth that propelled Nigeria to that greatness was achieved within a period of 12 years. You remember that political parties actually came about in the 1940s. There was a lot of hope that Nigeria would become a very great country as a result of that independence.
How old were you at independence?
In 1960, I was 22 years old.
What were you planning to do in life having seen the hopes and promises of an independent nation in 1960?
For those of us who were receiving tertiary education, we were told by our parents that we were the people to fill the vacancies to be created by the exit of the colonial masters-the engineers, the doctors, the agricultural scientists and the educationists- the ones to run the Nigerian economy at all levels and we believed them. So, we began to study very hard and we were doing so in mind so as to help develop Nigeria.
Does that explain why you studied agricultural science?
That could be one of several reasons. But don’t forget that even when we became a colony of Britain in 1914, what sustained Nigeria was agriculture. It was agriculture that actually provided the development base for Nigeria up to independence and beyond. So, I particularly thought that I could make my own contribution to national development through my studies of agriculture.
We all know our social economic history. At that time agriculture was contributing at least 60 percent of the total GDP at the national level, and, at the regional level where I come from, it was providing about 80 to 90 percent and all other things were contributors. So agriculture was the mainstay of the economy and I decided to train in that area to make my maximum contribution to national development.
It is regrettable that many years after independence, the once flourishing agric sector that sustained the Nigerian economy collapsed to the extent that the popular groundnut pyramid in Kano, the cocoa industry in the West and the palm oil farms in the East all disappeared.
This is the sad story about our pattern of development. As I told you, when I finished my studies in the University of Ibadan, I came back straight to the North and got a job in the Northern Regional Government as an agricultural officer and I was immediately posted to Samaru. Samaru was and is still the nerve centre of agricultural research in Nigeria, having been established a few years after Nigeria became a country under the colonial administration in 1922 or thereabouts.
It had no other function except agricultural research- to develop crop varieties, to develop all the technologies that will drive agricultural production, including introducing varieties that farmers did not know before. This is where I started my work and there is no village of 5,000 people in northern region that I did not set my foot, moving around with information on new technology and interacting with agricultural extension staff in the various provinces. That is what gave birth to the economic boom in the country.
The policy was very clear: agriculture was the mainstay of the economy and every government-federal and state-particularly the regions, concentrated on that and they provided the needed resources that propelled agriculture in all the areas of the East, North and West. This policy translated into practical production of crops we needed for consumption and for semi-processed products for exports as well as the raw materials and resources that provided the basis for infrastructural development of Nigeria.
Up to the time of independence in 1960, the resources that Nigeria used to construct the ports, the railway and road transportation came from agriculture. As I told you, I was working as an agric officer in Samaru. I grew up to become the Director of the Agric Research Institute there before I became the Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello they are not serving well even in the countries from where we borrowed. The streets of Paris, Athens, France, United States and Germany, are all seeing protests over social economic injustices imposed on the people around the world, including Nigeria. It is paradoxical that there is wealth and overwhelming poverty in Nigeria.
It seems to me that the Nigerian people are therefore helpless because the political processes are controlled and directed by the very leadership that has failed them?
I disagree with you. No matter how much we say that the constitution is imperfect, we can work with it because there is no perfect law anywhere. We cannot therefore say that the people are helpless. Partly true they are helpless but not true in all ramifications. This is where there are differences in ethnic tribes. The Yoruba is very adamant in defending his rights. You cannot steal votes in western Nigeria. It becomes easy for this thing to be done in other parts of the country.
The Yoruba land has been outside the Federal Government but they successfully resisted the imposition of political parties and leadership they don’t want. But other parts of the country fail to do so in their domains. The other problem is that we Nigerians have become commodities for sale. And the politicians who were ahead of us in terms of acquiring illegal wealth have turned around to buy us as chicken.
It is common in many parts of the country. But even if crooked politicians offer money to buy us, it is still possible to resist them. It happened sometime ago in Kano when people defended their votes. Even recently, we saw it in Bauchi, in 2007. Obasanjo did not want the governor but the people wanted him and resisted Obasanjo.
Prof Ango Abdullahi
The problem we have today is that the Nigerian people have suffered enough in the hands of people who made promises to them and did not fulfill them. They made promises of good governance in 1999 and did not do anything. In 2003, it was poorer and in 2007, it was open robbery and the same in 2011. So I think the people can come out and resist these robberies.
How can they do it?
Street protests as you see on the streets of Europe and Asia is a tool. But the leadership has manipulated the people all the time to their own selfish interest.
What do you think the people should do?
With the kind of government we have been having since 1999, they have reached the limit of their willingness or ability to change. There are two aspects-willingness and ability- to change for the better of the society. But, for now, there isn’t the willingness and, in fact, the way they comport themselves there isn’t inherent ability within the government to change things-while you have riff-raffs as ministers or commissioners as call girls and men is by that margin that they find themselves in positions of responsibility.
For heaven’s sake, what do you expect? There can be no result except ‘yes sir, yes sir, and all that. Have you seen any public officials resign over whatever they have done? I only saw Nnaji, being forced out recently over certain issues. Look at what has happened with the oil subsidy probe. See dirt all over the place and the minister is sitting there. What is she still sitting there for?
There is a serious moral question hanging on the neck of the minister and she cannot claim to be able to carry on as a minister under the serious fraud that has virtually overwhelmed the oil sector under her watch. But she still sits there pretending to be serving Nigeria drawing power from whoever is supporting her. So there is very little hope that this government can salvage Nigeria.
The front has to be broken by the people of Nigeria. They have to protect themselves otherwise this style of leadership would lead to inevitable break-up of this country. I am very frightened of it. The ordinary Nigerian does not even know whether Nigeria is making oil wealth or not because he does not see it in the school system, he does not see it in the hospital, he does not see it in the security.
He sees nothing apart from being told that so and so billions have been stolen by top government officials. So, the people are being pushed to the wall. And all these are manifestations of leadership failure in Nigeria. Let us be honest with ourselves. The problem of the Niger Delta is not new. It was identified and spoken about by our leader-Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Gowon and subsequent leaders still appreciated that something should be done to the oil producing areas of the country.
The question is whether the steps that have been taken have been adequate, appropriate and result oriented. Now we come to the present situation. I was in the constitutional conference of 1994-1995, 1987-1988 and 2004-2005 where the 13 percent derivation was debated. Today, there is NDDC, there is Ministry of Niger Delta, there is Amnesty Office and 13 percent allocation and so on. We can argue for more funds for the Niger Delta but the question is, what has been done to ameliorate the suffering in the region with the huge resources being pumped into the area?
The leaders who take this money either as governors, or board members of the commissions merely take this money for uses other than the well-being of the people of the Niger Delta. They are not willing to come clean to discuss the usage of the money. If a Niger Delta state gets as much as N11 billion and Kaduna and Jigawa get only N3 billion a month, for heaven’s sake, show the difference.
Most often, they dodge the explanation and confuse their people by saying that the money is in Abuja. They campaign that northerners have stolen the money and others. The people are difficulty. They don’t want to take them to go to Jigawa, Yobe and Borno to see deserts and other disasters threatening to wipe the people out. The areas are covered by sand domes and people are living there.
So if there is militancy in the Niger Delta because of oil pollution there, could militancy and uprising in other places for reasons of environmental difficulty of existence. So if people are pretending that there is no reason for people to be violent because of poverty, they must go to another school to learn some lessons.
So, are you saying that the insurgency in the North is caused by poverty?
To me, in terms of the report we have prepared for Mr. President’s attention, we brought out so many factors and one of them is poverty. But the biggest of them all is the issue of bad governance based on injustice. There are enough indicators for us to change course because we cannot keep pretending that all is well when it is not.
So, what do you want the government to do to quell insurgency and reduce the gap between the leadership and the governed?
People are so disenchanted that they can’t even believe their leaders. If you believe that you don’t have a leader, you don’t care. But this is why many people out of ignorance prefer to burn their voting cards because they believe that there is no need to waste time when the votes don’t count any more. We have to really sit down solve our problem. A lot of problem we have comes from poor leadership. Nigerians are denied the right to elect people they trust.
Do you think the problem is with the electoral system or the type of government we operate?
No, it still goes back to the people. Sometimes you need to separate the government on paper and the government that is practical and responsive to the people. There are rules set out for all to follow. But do the government officials follow the rules? No, they don’t for their selfish interest. They don’t care about the electoral process. As long as they ignore these issues, peace will continue to elude the people.
Are you worried about the disappearance of the monolithic North?
I am worried in the sense that the divisive elements that crept in should not have been allowed to do so. The Sardauna who gave leadership to the North was giving leadership to diverse people. In fact, there is more diversity in the North than you can find in the entire Nigerian state.
Oh yes! We have over 200 ethnic groups in the North. In Kaduna, we have about 22, Taraba, Kaduna,Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Borno will give you about 200 ethnic groups with distinct languages and so on. The Sardauna covered all of these. But how did he do it.? He was identified as an honest, committed, dedicated leader caring for everyone. What he wanted was competence.
He showed this in the civil service as well as in the politics of the North at the time. The biggest story people will say about Sardauna’s attitude to good people was when he saw Ibrahim Imam from Borno State going to lose a seat in Borno to return to the Northern House of Assembly as an opposition leader and he was afraid to offend his party-the NPC. The NPC in Borno insisted that Ibrahim Imam must not come back to represent them.
But the Sardauna wanted Imam back and he had the problem of either fighting his party for Imam and that would create a major problem because the governor of the north came from Borno. So he called Joseph Tarka from Benue State to come to Kaduna but the latter refused to come initially wondering what he was calling an opposition leader to come and do in Kaduna.
He might have thought he wanted his head being an opposition figure at the time. He refused to come and then the Sardauna appealed to the Tor Tiv to ask Tarka to come and see him in Kaduna and he eventually went to see hi
m. On arrival in Kaduna, the Sardauna explained to Tarka that he wanted him to assist in getting Ibrahim Imam to be allowed to continue in the House of Assembly as the opposition leader.
Tarka was shocked. Tarka told the Sardauna he could allow Imam to contest in Borno and not in Benue and he said he did not also want any problem with his party. So, he pleaded with Tarka to give Imam a seat in Benue and he accepted to give him a constituency in Benue.
From right, former President Ibrahim Babangida; member of the Group, Dr. Junaidu Muhammed; ex. Senate President, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu and ex Vice President Atiku Abubakar briefing journalists after a meeting of over 150 Northern Leaders in Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida
He contested and won election there. When Tarka went back to the Tor Tiv, he said he did not know that the Sardauna was such a wonderful and selfless leader. He was surprised that the Sardauna still found value in an opposition figure who nonetheless had so much to offer to the generality of the people. This is the kind of leader that he was. From that time on, Tarka was an active contributor to northern unity.
But what actually happened about the divisive thing in the North is that in our fathers’ days, there was really not much room for tribalism and religious hatred. Awolowo respected Azikiwe and so on. But what actually led to weakening the fabric of unity was the creation of states and, before you realise it, elements of statetism began to creep in-rivalry among leaders in the various states which was not there began to creep in but the most potent division which was introduced from outside was religion. And this was done very well by no other person than former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
How did he do it?
He knocked heads, made pronouncements about the North demonizing the region and its people and he did not hide it. He even wanted to recruit Senator Joseph Waku into the demonic campaign of calumny against the North. Not only did he want to demonise them but he also wanted to cripple them. Waku was taken aback. He could not help but to remind him that he was a northerner.
He said, ‘No, I am not talking about your kind. I am talking about Hausa-Fulani’. So whatever pretences Obasanjo might have had, it is clear that he was a major instrument in the introduction of divisive tendencies-tribal and religious that weakened the North as a geopolitical entity.
But Obasanjo can defend himself since there is no concrete evidence to support what you are accusing him of…?
No, no no, there is evidence. For a sitting president to call somebody to say that he wanted to destroy a certain section of the country?
But what could the person do about it?
You mean Waku?
Yes, he reported to us at a meeting what Obasanjo wanted him to do against the north and how he reminded him that he was also a northerner. In response, Obasanjo said he did not mean the Tiv people but the Hausa-Fulani.
But what do you think Obasanjo would want to achieve by demonising the North and its people?
Obasanjo’s quarrel, I understand has to do with the fact that a northerner sent him to jail. And that he could easily remove his garment and show everyone the scars left on him by the beating he got from northerners. So, all these actions have been properly documented by us.
You remember how he wickedly retired so many military officers from the North on the grounds that they served as politicians whereas such postings were purely military assignments. He retired all of them without caring about their careers and future so that they would not work against him and his government.
But the retirements affected all parts of the country and not the North alone…?
But it affected the North most. The North had the largest number of military officers retired by Obasanjo. Of course if he did not pronounce it, he would have had a hiding place. But Obasanjo could not contain himself. He called somebody-a northerner but nor Hausa-Fulani-to tell him that he wanted to harm the North and its people and he reminded him that he was one of them and he quickly said no, not your type but the Hausa/Fulani people’.
And here is Obasanjo still running around, pretending that he is a Nigerian leader and that he wants to still impose his wishes on us. But just like we stopped him from imposing himself on Nigerians through a third term, we will stop him from any of his imaginations. He succeeded with imposing the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua for a simple reason. Umaru was not a popular northern candidate. He was Obasanjo’s candidate.
But Yar’Adua could have served the interest of the North and Nigeria if he had not died…?
No, that is not the point. The reason is that Yar’Adua’s upbringing is typical of northern leadership of the past, deeply rooted in selflessness and humility. You can go to Shagari’s village and check what is there and confirm if he kept anything there for his personal gratification. He was president of Nigeria but did not do anything for himself and his village. But he did for other places. This is the leadership style of the North. We have this culture rooted in our religious belief that you must do to others first before you do for yourself.
If you saying Obasanjo weakened the North , why didn’t north confront him since then?
Yes, he did substantially. We did confront him otherwise we would not have succeeded in stopping third term. He had already bought over the Igbo into his programme. He was confident of the South West with Bode George and the rest of them and had already cornered all the PDP states.
It took us a lot of effort outside ACF to stop him. We created the Northern Union, with Olusola Saraki as the leader and myself as his deputy to run around, canvassing for support to stop Obasanjo’s third term and that was how we eventually worked together with people like Edwin Clark.
That was what brought us to Edwin Clark. You know I wrote Edwin Clark an open letter while he was canvassing for Jonathan to contest the 2011 election, reminding him of what we did with him under an arrangement that Obasanjo was a beneficiary of zoning. I sat with him in Otta and under the constitution he did his first four years and asked for another term as allowed by law.
Obasanjo accepted it and signed. Audu Ogbe has the list of the 47 persons who attended the meeting in Otta in 2003. Only four persons refused to sign the zoning agreement. And Jonathan was there, representing his governor. He signed as number 37 on behalf of his governor for Obasanjo to do another four years-that is the North conceding eight years under the zoning arrangement to the south so that it would take its eight years after Obasanjo.
Obasanjo even tried to exceed the two terms by trying a third term. He may deny it but everyone knows that the man was working for a third term by sidelining our constitution. Here is a man who was the first to say that he was not aware of zoning in PDP. That was what he said. He said he did not recognize zoning. But what is most surprising was that when Jonathan was about the contest the 2011 election, he did not know about zoning the Presidency.
What we were quite willing to accept was that since Yar’adua had died prematurely, he should serve out his remaining term as provided for in the constitution. But people running around Jonathan said no and that he is the custodian of the mandate of Yar’Adua and he should be allowed to run as if Yar’Adua was not a candidate representing northern interest under the zoning arrangement reached with Obasanjo and other leaders of Nigeria in Otta in 2003.
So, how could Jonathan then represent us under the zoning arrangement? He should have stopped at 2007 and for the North to take on the remaining four years. But Jonathan went ahead and got the support of some of these northern lackeys who were running around to get either second term as governors or ministerial appointments and the like to say that he could run.
They manipulated the congresses and the primaries to his advantage. Each governor was given a box to return Jonathan otherwise they would forfeit their four years with a threat that only the party has the power to submit the names of candidates to the INEC. So the governors struggled to return Jonathan.
Could that be the reason why some people say that the North is angry with Jonathan?
Yes, it is true. It is true because Jonathan is untrustworthy; he cannot keep a promise. There was a promise that the North would do eight years after Obasanjo. Yar’Adua died midway and they reneged. We had expected that the North would at least be given back power in 2011. But Jonathan argued it in his own way and was supported by some northerners who sold out and pretended that they are were out to protect the interest of the North and we will expose them at the right time.
But the people you are referring to are top political leaders from the North who are either governors or ministers and lawmakers who are playing normal course of politics and I doubt if there is anything anyone can do to them…?
They are playing politics with the interest of their people and they want the people to respect and support them? Is that what you mean? We will expose them at the right time. We will. When we reach the point, you will see their names in the paper.
There is controversy over the onshore/offshore dichotomy, which had long been laid to rest. Why the renewed agitation by the North?
No, it has not been laid to rest. There is a constitution even though some say it is not good enough. But it is still there serving the people of Nigeria. Under the law, there is a certain distance between land and the continental shelf and this is what all other countries of the world apply in the sharing of resource from the sea. They use that law to decide what should go to the state and the entire country. This was the case and this is what really should have been the basis upon which the National Assembly should have based its decision. But the truth is that what drove the process was corruption.
Who was corrupted?
The National Assembly was influenced by those who were interested in abrogating onshore/offshore dichotomy.
But northerners were also in the National Assembly and they could not have been induced to work against their collective interest…?
They were the ones who were induced and that is why I tell you that their names will be in the papers very soon. Northern lawmakers sold out. And this is costing the North at least N20 billion monthly. They may have been induced but now their selfish action is costing the North at least N20 billion every month. But where were the governors? They were there. Where were the members of the North who were serving in the National Economic Council and others? All the top persons in the government of Obasanjo from the North are all guilty of selling out the interest of the north as far as the onshore/offshore dichotomy is concerned.
But Masari has argued that the action was a national compromise position to save the country from protracted crisis since the oil producing states were insisting on revenue for oil taken from as far as 500 feet isobaths…?
No it is absolute nonsense because it is still against international law. They could have adopted another approach and not violate the law.
So what does the North really want concerning the oil law?
Nigeria should comply strictly with the international law of the sea in sharing oil revenue. That is the position of the North. We should be able to decide what to do for the environmental degradation done to the oil producing states by giving those states some level of compensation above others but not to compromise international law the way we are doing. But as long as this law is being distorted to serve an interest that does not appear to be national, then it remains an area of contention.
Given what you have said about the breach of zoning arrangement by Jonathan in 2011, will the North want to support him to contest the 2015 election so as to complete his eight years?
Well I will answer that question by asking you to go and see those governors who supported Jonathan in 2011 and find out whether they are ready to support him in 2015. I never supported him in 2011 and I am not going to do so in 2015. The North that I know and belong to did not support Jonathan in 2011. It is governors who supported him on behalf of the people of the North and I think that question should be directed to them.
But what will the North do?
I can assure you that the North will not sit back for 2011 to repeat itself. That is what I can say at this point in time. We cannot support someone who reneged on a ‘gentleman agreement’ that disqualified him from contesting in the election on purely moral grounds.
Again, it is left for Nigerians to judge whether the man has come close to being an effective president for Nigeria since he took power, whether acting or substantial. And even on the basis of that I thought that the man should disqualify himself from seeking an office even if it is legally feasible for him to do so.
Why should he disqualify himself from seeking office?
He should do so because even those who supported him initially have come out to say that this is one of the most incompetent presidents that this country has ever produced. Incompetence is the key word. What has he done that this country wanted that he has done? Corruption is at its peak under his leadership and that is why the country is reversing to the debt trap.
Even Obasanjo left some substantial foreign reserves and virtually cleared the debt burden of the country before leaving office. But now the reserves are gone and we are back in debts. Subsidy is at the forefront of corruption. Over N2.6 trillion gone in the name of oil subsidy and it is evident that most people who fronted this scam did so to return most of the money to the electioneering campaign of 2011. Many of them are anxious to go to court to say so and that is why the government is reluctant to prosecute them.
So, under this government, you can individualise cases of corruption and they have not had the courage to convict one person for stealing public wealth with impunity. And you have this cumulative exhibition of incompetent president in his pronouncements. When he was in Anambra the other day, he said, “I have come to my people”. So they are his people and other states are not his people?
All these crises that have happened in Jos, Maiduguri, or Yobe where hundreds of people have been killed, Jonathan never showed up even once. And he is claiming to be president of Nigeria. He has made all manner of statements that portray him as totally incompetent and totally unsuitable for a nationalistic disposition. He cannot be the national leader. And perhaps that is why Obasanjo his godfather has given up on him and abandoned him to his fate.