Seeks abolition of states
Politically, he said, should the majority of Nigeria call on him to contest 2015 Presidential election, he will not hesitate to oblige, even as he said that, the Nigerian majority that he knows will not call him to rule their country. He spoke with ABDULGAFAR ALABELEWE.
What is your assessment of Nigerian democracy so far?
The journey so far is really quite fair, it is not bad at all. I know a lot of people are saying with all the goings-on, with all the political hanky-panky, but in my own opinion, it is to be expected. I know politics is a question of different views and ideas and you can’t expect all Nigerians to be of the same views and ideas. So, there are bound to be differences. But as long as they don’t bring about huge problems, then all is well that ends well. I really think we are making progress.
Would you say the journey has been fair to northern Nigeria?
Well, the only difference, if you will like to know the difference between the northern Nigeria and the rest, I don’t think is fair, certainly we have political and religious challenges more in the North than in the South. Otherwise we are the same.
We have the same basic problems, we have the same basic aspirations to better the lots of all Nigerians in all spheres of influence. So, it is one of struggle to make people live a more decent life. There is no difference whatsoever.
Certainly in the North, there are political but more of religious challenges and this is only a question of time. In sha Allah, it will be resolved soon. Even politically or religiously, there is no reason we have to expect everyone to conform; no way can we all conform to the same basic ideas and the necessities of life, no way.
I am quite happy with the way many things are going on in Nigeria. The biggest challenge as I see, is unemployment and under-employment. This is a real serious issue facing the country. Official statistics will tell you that unemployment is about 25 per cent, but both you and I know that unemployment and under-employment is on the range of at least 50 per cent.
This is very sad, that is why we have crime, that is why we have social challenges, because people who are qualified to certain jobs cannot even do it. So, we have to re-orientate ourselves towards job creation. This is the greatest challenge as I see it apart from political differences which are here to stay until doomsday. There is no way political differences cannot continue. No way because we are not of the same mind, we have the same basic tenets of trying to make Nigeria the land of milk and honey for all Nigerians. But the challenges are so enormous, it is just to find a way to help us to achieve those ends.
But unemployment to me is the biggest challenge facing this country. As you know, statistically the manufacturing sector leaves so much to be desired. Statistically, almost 80 per cent of what we consume apart from the basic staples such as maize, yam, it is all imported, all the necessities of life. So, there are a lot of challenges for Nigerian entrepreneurs and manufacturers to fill than 80 per cent gap. So, the opportunities are there to manufacture what this country needs.
In the same vein, of course, it will bring about reduction in unemployment; people will have jobs to do because they are basic necessities of life. We are importing 80 per cent. In other words if you spend N1 now, 80 per cent of it or 80 kobo goes abroad. Can you imagine if left at home, the amount of capital formation that it will bring about? It will eliminate unemployment with at least 40 per cent if we put ourselves to the task of manufacturing the gap of the importation.
There have been a coordinated effort between the government and the private sector to re-industrialise the North which seems not to have yielded any result. What is your position on this?
With all due respect, I also live in Nigeria, I have not seen the coordinated effort you are talking about between the government and the private sector.
But during the late President Yar’Adua’s tenure, efforts were made to revive the textile industries. What will you say about that?
Yes, that one I know. It is the taste of Nigerians because most of what textile industries produce in Nigeria are really sub-standard. Even from your dresses, there is no single material here that is made in Nigeria. It is a symptom of the problem that I was telling you that 80 kobo of each naira that you spend goes abroad because basically we don’t produce what people want.
They want quality, they want variety and most of the textiles produced in this country belong to 30 or even 40 years ago. So, not only the quality but the type and variety is simply not there. That is why they don’t seem to be improvement in the sector.
We are gradually inching towards 2015. What should Nigerians expect from Dr. Lema Jibril, politically?
Politically, I always go with the majority. I am a democrat, so whatever the majority decide I go along because the majority can’t possibly fail.
I know there is the need for opposition, I know there is the need to check the excesses of government at all level; local, state and federal. That is the beauty of democracy; If the opportunity for people to express themselves, to differ if necessary when things are not going on well. As far as I am concerned politically, I always go with the majority.
Specifically, there is the clamour for a northern president and you have aspired to that position before, should we look forward to a come- back?
If the majority say so, but they will not say so.
Why do you think they won’t say so?
Because I have tried in the past and they didn’t say so. So, I am quite contented to contribute to ideas at various levels when asked to do so.
Where do you stand on the clamour for power shift to the North?
I stand with the decision of the majority. How many times do I have to say that. If it is the majority wish, so be it.
There is this claim of a pact between President Goodluck Jonathan and the northern governors that power must shift to the North in 2015. What is your take on that?
Go and ask the governors, I am not one of the governors, I am not privy to that, I don’t know anything about it.
What if there was the pact?
Well, if the governors maintained that what they say is true, it is up to them to take up the challenge with the presidency. It is not for me very well outside the scheme of things to think along those lines.
They are the people that matter, they are the people that made the decision, they are privy to what you ascribe to them. They know what they are talking about and if they do, they have to let Nigerians know in no uncertain, in no unmistaken terms on what transpired and they should come with facts and figures about what they are saying.
Do you personally subscribe to the notion of power shift to the North or the maintenance of the status quo?
As I always say, the beauty of democracy is to allow the majority have their say. If that is what the majority of the people say, so be it. Because if there was this rotation or power shift and it was agreed, I think that it was only fair and right that they should go along those lines.
My own personal opinion as a nationalist, I personally don’t believe in all these; let the best man prevail democratically. Nigeria being what it is, we have this enormous problem of blowing things out of proportion. That is what is heating the polity and I think we should understand along those lines.
We believe in the majority. Though they haven’t said so in the past, should they say so now, would you succumb?
Of course, of course, of course.
Some would say the old hands should go and allow the youths, do you think the time is ripe for that?
It is not a question of the time, the youths have already been given the opportunity. But in my own opinion, they haven’t got the resources or what it takes to take over because of the system’s level playing field. Nobody stops the youth from taking over. Nobody. It is only the youth that stop themselves.
In my own opinion maybe because they haven’t got all it takes in terms of resources, in terms of propagating their ideals nationally. Nobody ever stops the youth as far as I know. It is a free country, it is a free democracy.
As an elder statesman, what is your performance rating of President Goodluck?
People have this idea. We know that there is poverty in the land, there is discontent, there is low productivity. Don’t forget that each regime, each government, the people deserve the government they get. So, it is up to the people democratically to determine which way to go. They say they have elected the government, are they performing? It is up to the majority of the people whose views you are trying to express to make the necessary changes.
Most Nigerians blame the elite for Nigeria’s woos, do you share that view?
I don’t at all, I don’t at all. We are all equally guilty; the elite and the low. We are not being fair, we are not being honest. And unless we build this country based on honesty of purpose, we cannot succeed. There is so much dishonesty at all levels.
What else do you expect? We need moral re-armament of the highest order. We want to see changes in this country. We have to be our brothers’ keepers. We have to be honest to ourselves. We have to bring about equity, justice and fairness at all levels if we want to witness progress in this country.
Aside freedom of expression, looking at the polity between 1999 and now, would you say democracy has fared better than military rule?
We are talking democracy. Where do you place democracy really. Are they democratic? Do they come to power on democratic basis? They just took over power by force. Is that what you call democracy?
I would always go for civilian democracy; it is the ideal. Even the military top brass they said so. So, what else do you want? They are an aberration in the scheme of things. So, there is no question of comparing at all.
In the last 15 years you have been quiet politically, what do you have up your sleeves in 2015?
You can see my sleeves I have nothing there (laughter). I just continue as I have been doing in the last 15 years until the truce prevails. Nigerians know who are helping them, who has the programme of progress in terms of resuscitating the economy of this country. They know all the polity and what have they contributed in the past. What have they done economically, manufacture, agriculture, commerce and industry.
Let them weigh the options and then see who are the people behind the success of efforts to resuscitate the economy. It is only then, based on the performance of the informed opinion of the people that you can talk along that line.
On North’s backwardness, what do you think of this and what is the way out?
Challenges are there for ever and ever. They are there and they would continue to be there. There is no way that anyone can say there is a limit to what is going on. If the fulcrum is the society as a whole, if you say the North, the North then. You cannot change things overnight. Education especially, we have been left behind. Statistically, the North is way behind. What you would say is how do we correct the imbalance? What can we do to bring our people up because the South is not going to fold its arms and stay where they are while the North is making progress? This inequality in education would likely continue for months.
We have to have the basics. The budget of education in the Northern states must be at least 50 per cent of the entire budget if we are really serious. I will say the same thing for agriculture. If we are serious the budget for agriculture at both federal and state level should devout 50 per cent to both education and agriculture for us to make progress in agricultural development.
If we put these resources into account, we can overtake oil export in terms of even foreign exchange earnings. We are not serious, we have been paying lip-service to agriculture. We have to move the resources, we have made investment necessary in order to bring about rapid social changes in all spheres of life.
Most legacies of the late Sardauna are going into extinction. What do you think is responsible for this?
If you want to know what is responsible for this deterioration, it is the creation of states and local governments. Before we were one entity, but with the creation of 19 states and Abuja from the North, it brought about unnecessary division.
I was telling some people the other day that left for me, I will abolish all the states and create more local governments. Statistically, we have about 219 countries in the world, 85 per cent of them are local governments, they are not states. Why should we be like states in Nigeria. Even the country that brought us up, they have no states, they have no local governments. There are I think 18 or 19 countries in the world that have states.
The fulcrum of development is at the local government. So, left to me, to bring about unity, to bring about equity in terms of capital and recurrent expenditure, is to abolish all the states. Go back to the three regions that we used to have. You can imagine the sort of saving you can make. I know the politicians would not agree because they want to be ministers, they want to be commissioners, they want to be special advisers. That is all consuming money.
Imagine, almost 80 per cent of expenses in this country is recurrent expenditure. That leaves very little for real development in terms of capital expenditure. So, the creation of state is unnecessary and a waste. There is nothing at the state level that would bring about rapid development. The fulcrum should be at the local government level.
All the agriculture is at the local government level. Even the consumption in terms of population is at the local government level. The states are just a waste in my own opinion. We should give the resources to the local government where the people live. The only thing that I can add is to ensure that we elect credible people at the local government level to implement social and economic policies.