Former Minister of Education, Alhaji Dauda Birma, has raised the alarm that some foreign forces with their internal collaborators want Nigeria to break up. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the Sarkin Gabas Adamawa emphasised that the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) opinion on President Muhammadu Buhari doesn’t represent the views of the north. He spoke more on these and other national issues.


In view of the very high level of insecurity in the country, some people say there could be foreign forces trying to break the country. What do you make of this?

It is definite that Nigeria is at war promoted by outside forces with the assistance or collaboration of inside forces. Once people have made up their mind that they will destroy a country, you do not know what they are planning; they can come to you from every direction, but you cannot plan against them, and you are forced to react to what they have done because they always have the advantage of the initiative because they have targeted you.

These people are using the internal contradictions of this country, using the faults lines, which are very obvious, exploring, utilising every device that they can use to take advantage of the fault lines.  The fault lines seem to be increasing, we used to have the North – South dichotomy, and then we have this issue of zonal divide, we brought religion into it, and now there is politics and everything anybody can think of is utilised against us. I can only say, only God will save Nigeria because the forces that are arraigned against the country are numerous, invisible and vicious.

 What should be done to avert this?

Honesty, I do not know anything that has not been tried. We have the Ministry of Defence, which has the armed forces- Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. The navy is confronted with people who break the pipelines, siphon fuel and get money, which they use to attack Nigeria. I read in the papers that over a period of time, there have been more than four thousand violations of our pipelines. Anytime our petroleum is stolen, the money is used to fight us.

Now, we have Boko Haram, which has been added to the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA), and it seems that some countries we regards as friends are actually not friends as they are behind what is happening; they are aiding them because we are aware that arms are ferried sometimes by helicopter, sometime by camels, donkeys, etc to cross our borders.

Recently, six armoured vehicles were transported across our borders and they were to be delivered into Sambisa for Boko Haram to use to fight us. I’m a civilian, I’m not in government, so cannot tell you that this is what we should do, but we seem doomed to suffer the consequences of attack by people who do not wish Nigeria well.

Nigeria is at war; there are people who have decided to wage war against the country and use our cleavages, our contradictions and our fault lines which are becoming more and more pronounced than before.

The South-South recently said that in 2023 they should be allowed to complete the four years Jonathan was to have completed in 2015. What is your position on this?

This politics of entitlement, where people sit in their comfort zones and when they are sufficiently fed, they come out to say that they are entitled to this and entitled to that.

Any Nigerian who believes that it is his right should work, convince other people, and network because when there is nomination, nobody is restricted; anybody who belongs to a political party can stand and say he is contesting.

But, for anybody to sit in his comfort zone and say that it is his entitlement and for him to expect people to come and deliver to him is stupidity. Therefore, anybody who believes it is his turn should go out in the field, go round the country and persuade other people that it is your people that deserve the presidency. This question of entitlement is not going to take us anywhere.

Every zone is insisting on producing the president in 2023 – the Southwest, the Southeast, the South-South, the Middle Belt and the North, but in your opinion which zone should get it?

As a politician, I don’t want to say that this is my preference. Whichever zone wants to have it should convince other people with the type of people they have- people who have moved around, who have courted people, who have persuaded others that they have the materials because the issue of entitlement is polarising people, and I shouldn’t put myself into it.

By age and experience, I know that we should not talk this entitlement and that entitlement, therefore, people should not be lazy; they should not be presumptuous, they should come out and if they have any good material they should advance this material. But, for people who believe that they got enough money to buy votes; that they have got enough nuisance value and blackmail value to get this, I don’t think this is the essential ingredient for politics.

Politics should be recruiting people, convincing people, going to meet them in their areas and persuading them that you have got the right material, and that right material should be person who other people respect and they think they can entrust the leadership of the country to him.

There are strong indications that your younger brother Atiku Abubakar is contesting in 2023, though you didn’t support him in 2019, but this time around are you likely to support him?    

By the time he emerges, if he is the most suitable person, of course I will support him. But you do not talk of one individual when you know that a large number of people will appear.

Even at that time, I didn’t say that I was negatively inclined towards him. You asked me, between him and Buhari, and I told you that Buhari is my friend, and I was inclined to go with my friend and not with my younger brother, but this time around, if my younger brother comes out and if he is the most suitable person, it will be very wrong for me to say that I’m not going to support him.

How can I support anybody else who is not as good as my younger brother that is contesting? We wait until the time comes when everybody comes out, then I can compare an apple for an apple, and at that time I will tell you what my preferences are. You cannot prefer something when you cannot weigh that thing against other options that are available to you.

But he is PDP and you are in APC, why will you support another party’s candidate?

If there is a compelling reason for me to support somebody in PDP, I’m not myopic to refuse a good person just because he is in another party. I hold Nigeria very close to my chest; I’m very passionate about the future of this country and I’m passionate about the emergence of a suitable person.

You remember the other time that I told you that if the Southeast could produce somebody of the calibre of Ken Nnamani, not that I knew him enough, not that I interacted with him, but a good person is a good person at any time of the day or night.

Therefore, we shall wait until people emerge and we see who is there and who is not there and if my brother is the most suitable candidate, you don’t even need to persuade me, you will find me in his corner.

Last time I mentioned Ken Nnamani, many people called me and they assumed he is my friend, but he doesn’t even know me, but I have seen him in the last 20 years or so, I think he is a suitable person. Not that he is the only suitable person, if you look at the Southeast, you find out that there are some of them who may not have the money or the exposure, but if the region should rally around them, there will be the type of people if they come out and the zone support them, they will go places, but the zone is an area where money speaks and if you don’t have money they dismiss you.

I know Ken Nnamani is probably not likely to have money, but he has pedigree, image. If you go to Imo State, you take somebody like Felix Amadi, a very fine gentleman, who has been in the insurance business; he has been going around and has friends as well, and if you can bring somebody like him and say go and contest, people who know him and are prepared to accept a good material will go for him. There are many of them. If you ask me, I can reel out their names, but the Southeast doesn’t talk about them, instead they will talk about certain people who have got money or who have accidentally become governors or something like that, and who have not reached out. But this issue has to do with people who have reached out; who have exposed themselves.

For instance, I would have mentioned to you Prof George Obiozor from Imo State, he is a person who has paid his dues; he was the DG, NIIA, our ambassador in Israel, and also the United States. He is a very calm calculated professional and intellectual, but nobody talks about him because he has no money. The best materials in the East are relegated and thrown away, and then eventually they will start blaming other people for not giving them slot, but let them choose people who they can sell. You know, there is window-shopping; if you don’t put somebody in the window the person who is doing window-shopping will not see what you have inside the shop.

The Southeast has a responsibility to bring out the best that is acceptable because there are people when you say there are good for the Southeast, they may not be good for other people because they probably frighten other people. You should produce people who do not frighten other people.

If you look at the North, the people who emerge are not people who frighten people. Look at when Tafawa Balewa was made the prime minister, he didn’t frighten anybody from any part of Nigeria. Look at when Shehu Shagari emerged, he was thinking of going to the Senate, but people felt that this man would not frighten anybody from the other part of the divides and they voted for him as the president. Look at Umaru Yar’ Adua, nobody gave him a chance but because he didn’t frighten anybody, other people decided to work for him.

Therefore, the East must get somebody who is level headed, and do not frighten other people. I have a large number of friends in the Southeast, but it pains me that the zone doesn’t bring out its best; it brings out certain characters, who fall flat as soon as they are examined.

The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) recently attacked President Buhari for failing the country, do you share in that sentiment?

There was a statement by somebody that the Northern Elders Forum as constituted today, and as led by its present leadership doesn’t reflect the views of Northern elders. Am I not a northern elder, has anybody talked to me?

The Northern Elders Forum as constituted decided to get people who have the same opinions with them, and these opinions are not positive towards Buhari; they are people who hold the president in contempt and people who dislike him and when they come they use the name, ‘North’.

The North is a very large place; there are 19 states, which constitute the North, and look at the territorial coverage, 70 per cent of the land mass of this country is in the north, therefore, when five or six persons tell you that they are the Northern Elders Forum, speaking for the north, please don’t accept it.

But it is a strong group made up of credible members

It is a group. Don’t get me wrong. If tomorrow, I get about nine or ten people and they accept my leadership, and I tell you that I’m such and such forum, you are likely to accept my view but you have not audited my support base.

But there is also the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF)

It is a forum that avoids getting involved in politics. It is a socio-cultural organisation and it tries as much as possible not to get involved in politics in order to maintain its credibility.

The leader of ACF is Alhaji Adamu Fika, who has maintained his dignity and avoided getting into politics, and he is quietly advising people on the best to do in the interest of the North. I’m a member of ACF, and also a member of the body’s national executive. In that forum, we avoid politics because we want to avoid polarisation.

From the picture you painted of Nigeria being at war, some elder statesmen are saying since the country is becoming very difficult to live together, each section should go to their respective regions and enjoy peace. In a recent newspaper advertorial, the Ijaw said they were going for self-determination. What is your take on this?

We have several fault lines and people have got their views, and when they are in their comfort zones there is nothing they cannot say. Listening to them, you will not know whose sentiments and prejudices they are tendering.

When you take them seriously, you find out that since the days of Isaac Boro before 1966, people have been talking about breaking Nigeria. You do not start breaking up Nigeria because some cranks have said that we break up Nigeria, we keep on going. Some people say, break up Nigeria, while others say, let’s patch our differences and continue. I believe that in the future when we review the constitution, we must bring in referendum as part of our constitution, so that any person who feels very strongly about leaving will air his views, and let us see if he has got sufficient support from his home base.

There is nothing like forcing people willy-nilly to be in anything if they feel they want to go out.