*Says Buhari’s failure resulting from his team of round pegs in square holes
Bearing in mind the global agitation by different shades of opinions and variations in the positions of the North on calls for power shift, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, former Vice Chancellor ABU and current Chairman Northern Elders Council (NEC), has released dispositions. But whether the position of the elder statesman represents the position of the entire northerners, leaves a lot to be desired. In this AUTHENTIC SUNDAY INTERVIEW with Achadu Gabriel, he also gave an insight into happenings under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration where he also served as an adviser. Excerpts: My name is Ango Abdullahi, a retired University person, currently keeping myself busy on my farm and sometimes getting involved in social-political affairs in Nigeria.
Sir, the clamour for power to return to the North in 2015, in which you were formidable and vocal has been accomplished, how do you express your happiness?
Well, I don’t know what you mean by my happiness. Most importantly this President is a Nigerian President, so perhaps when you said how happy we are, you are talking about how happy are Nigerians that a northerner in the person of Buhari, is now the president. And this is what my group and perhaps many other groups clamored for. A change of government from PDP led by Jonathan and to another person who, in this case, emerged from APC. Now, the first thing is if I need to be more specific, haven clamored and being very vocal on the issue of power shift from where it was in the South to the North, I’ll say I’m happy that, that objective was met.
Many people doubted that it could happen or it would not happen, but I assured people at that time that it would happen because all the factors that will make it possible were very much on ground even though some people denied some of them. So, we could say that from the point of view of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), and perhaps other various activists groups that advocated for this shift, we succeeded. If that means happiness, that our objective was realized, we are happy it happened. Now the rest of it is that, yes, there is president of Northern extraction. All Nigerians are happy. It also in this case, depends on what you mean by happiness; there must be something that you gain or lose that you are happy with it or you wouldn’t be happy with the loss.
In this case, if the issue is partisanship that partisan division brought between interest groups for instance, there are those who advocated for Jonathan to win the election, obviously those will not be happy that the election was lost. But there were so many others, both in the North and South who advocated that somebody else, whether it was Buhari, should replace Jonathan, would be happy politically that Jonathan has been replaced. Now if you’re going to ask of happiness relating to conditions of living and cost of living and so on and so forth, are issues you could raise which we can discuss which is different. But from the political angle, this is the dimensions of happiness or lack of happiness.
You were part of those that supported the power shift on grounds of zoning and equity, where do you think the next president be zoned to in 2019 and even beyond?
Well, even though politicians perhaps are already thinking of 2019, but the basis on which we asked for power shift, for me, is premature to start talking of where power should go to in 2019. In any case, power shift is a policy or was a partisan political position that the party in power at that time adopted. It was the PDP, which I knew very well and I was part of, which adopted power shift philosophy which stated very clearly that power will alternate between North and South. And, that it will be in the South for eight years, and it was supposed to move back to the North for another eight years. A bit of difficulty developed when Obasanjo began to show interest in even amending the constitution of Nigeria so he could remain in office beyond stipulated eight years period allowed by the constitution. These were signs that were not good in terms of agreement that were reached by responsible people who were supposed to be leaders in the PDP.
But, in fact, it was indication for Obasanjo to go for a third term that began to influence the attitude of PDP leaders in terms of obligations to power shift arrangement which unfortunately happened to be against northern interest. Umaru Musa Yar’adua came and spent three years out of the eight years expected for the north to remain in office and died. And, of course common sense within the party would have dictated that, based on the principle of power shift which we agreed, the north will present a candidate in 2011. And this was denied, and this was the beginning of some of us becoming very angry. Much as we had initially worked for PDP, we began to see some elements of dishonesty and hostile agenda in the political arena directed against the north. And that was how we rose and fought it.
You know I was in Obasanjo government. Yes, we didn’t get it in 2011; perhaps we were caught unawares at that time. But when we faced it properly in 2015, somebody was still insisting that the North, right under PDP should not. We kicked, but PDP did what it wanted, insisted that Jonathan will run under its flags, and the PPD lost the election. Therefore, the question to ask when you’re talking about power shift is to ask whether PDP, in whose constitution, there is power shift arrangement, is still interested in power shift because it was the PDP that virtually reneged on power shift in 2011, and they wanted to renege in 2015.
And so the question should be put to them whether they think that the power shift agreement is something that they want to keep, and how do persuade Nigerians that they could be interested to keep it. Of course, that they lost election and admitted they made a mistake in 2015, it was an after thought, by insisting that Jonathan should run, when they knew, in terms of equity and gentlemanly agreement, it was the time they should concede to the north, but they did not.
Now they said they made a mistake, it is better they made the mistake. So, some of us were vindicated that PDP was dishonest because they couldn’t keep an agreement. Some months ago, I understand the party said that the north will contest the next presidency on their platform. Whether it is retaining power shift as a principle or a maneuver now for them to see if they will win election in 2019, only them can perhaps provide the answers.
But in terms of the general principle of power shift I believe that we started well. I was in the constitutional conference of 1994, and it was there that the issue of power sharing was discussed, and a committee was set up. I was in the committee of power sharing, based on the diversity of Nigeria – what led to the creation of states out of the region, local government from a few states to the current 36 states, is all having to do with people wanting to be as close to seat of power as possible, and be a determinant of leadership that are close to them. So, it’s now up to the parties to decide what to do.
We learnt a bitter lesson from the behavior of PDP, so we now have to be watchful of what their intentions are and intentions of other parties, come 2019. But specifically, some of the issues we raised in NEF, apart from the injustices that were meted out to the north, was also to look at many other considerations. We said that Jonathan was not competent to run for office in 2015, as president. Aside not competent, there was so much corruption and everything, which everybody agreed that a change of government was not susceptible, whether it is on bases of an agreed power shift arrangement or on the bases that the government of the day had failed, and there was need for another one.
So, 2019, is not too far. Of course, we can see some politicians maneuvering into clusters of political interest, and I’m sure all this has to do with perhaps aspiration or ambitions of some people who want to contest elections in 2019. For us in NEF, I can assure you that it is a bit premature, that we have not taken any hard and fast position in terms of where the president should come from. We have done our bit on the bases of certain principles, and a president of northern extraction is on seat. And we are praying for him to do all those things that will make a good president of Nigeria between 2015 and 2019.
And if he does well, and I suppose that this is what his handlers perhaps should be working for, and then, the issue of who will contest his position will not even arise. Of course other parties are there to argue whether he has done enough to stay in office or whether he has not done well enough, and should be challenged.
And if by 2019, Nigerians are unanimous that the president has not done enough, it’s up to them in 2019 to change him. And whether it’s from same zone or another zone, depending entirely on how good governance plays out between now and 2019 period. But, otherwise, in an official position, the NEF, will again be looking forward to principles that will guide them whether or not to support a particular person in office.
How will you assess the management of power under Buhari, because you were quoted recently to have said that Buhari has neglected the North, what are your expectations?
Though the captions that you read in the papers were not exactly my words. What I said, if I’ve to repeat it more precisely, is that, we’re looking forward to a very vigorous active competent government. And I emphasize that president alone does not run a government, and he cannot run a country as diverse and complex as large as Nigeria alone. He needs competent support, competent organization to have an effective government, and my criticisms which were read as northerners are not happy is that I said he had not put together the kind of team we expected that will help him deliver the hard goods that are expected from Nigerians in office as president. I did argue that there are so many round pegs in square holes and so many square hole pegged in round holes, and that is still my position. And that doesn’t necessary translate into that, the north are unhappy with his government. It’s a little more, time will tell that people are happy or not. But for me the indicators of a good government are to have a good health, and Buhari is good one. But remains which I was not satisfied and I said so is that he has not put together the kind of team that will help him challenge the serious challenges that are facing this government in the various areas of governance.
Agreed, the challenges are very obvious with recession and hardship in place, coupled with low value of naira, high degree of poverty, unemployment, insecurity- Boko Haram, Shi’ites wars, kidnapping and return of militancy in the South, what does these portend to you?
Yes exactly, this is the main reason why I said that the president single handedly cannot deliver against all these odds, and huge challenges that are facing this country. He needs very determined and competent hands. Loyalty is good but loyalty in this case is not enough for you to do a job that is desired of you. And this is why I raised this alarm early that he has not put together the king of team that will address some of the challenges you have mentioned one by one. People have always argued that he does not have an economic team and we believe here that he doesn’t have the economic team.
The fact that he has Minister of Finance or Attorney General or a Governor of Central Bank doesn’t necessary give you a good economic team. Economic team is created. For example, who is his chief economic adviser? There’s none. For example, I’ve not seen from 1960 till today, a government that did not have a chief economic adviser, a chief economist, going back to the era of Pius Okigbo and rest of them. Ministers, he said “Are noise Makers”. This is word, and this to me is that he could even run his government without the ministers but you could not run your government without competent people who knows the various areas, subjects and so on, that are supposed to be relevant to a good government. And since this could be why you’re having problems, because I could not see competent economic adviser who tell the President to devalue the naira beyond its low value that people have been complaining with over the years. At a point he was saying they will said, when this country debated, that he did not want to borrow money from IMF because IMF conditionality included devaluation of naira, opening up our borders to inter multi-national companies to come and dump their goods and so on and in the wrong run crippling our base among others. You don’t devalue you currency when you’re not competing with people in terms of goods you sell. Nigeria does not sell any goods that are competing with countries elsewhere, why should you devalue your currency.
Tell me, if only a few years ago, because in terms of currency value in many countries, some time it take hundred years for you to have a change in the value of the currency beyond 2,3,4,5 per cent. One naira In 1986, I’ve always recall this, I was in my last year as Vice Chancellor in ABU, was equivalent to one Dollar and forty cents, one naira twenty kobo was equivalent to one Pound Sterling . 1986, only 30 years ago, but can you believe today, that you have find 470 naira in parallel market to buy one Dollar or find 660 Naira to buy one Pound Sterling.
And how could you say that you’re going to use this foreign exchange to buy infrastructure from outside, and this infrastructure will be bought in dollars. Where are you going to find the volume of Naira to change into dollars to buy these entire infrastructure – railway, power and everything that you think of that is imported. Our industries are import dependant in terms of their raw materials. Virtually all the current industries in Nigeria are dependent on foreign raw materials. So they have to find naira equivalent to dollar to buy.
And how could your product be competitive with those countries where the machineries are sold there, and raw materials are available there, how could they. So these are some of the things we find very incomprehensible. And the destruction of this currency, and the way it has been done, I cannot see any way out in terms of recovery from our economic rescission. I cannot see it in all this policies, there could be other policies, but they’re not even discussing them. They are not even discussing some of the hard options before we can recover, but they are not discussion those. Take for example, the 2016 budget where they said 30 percent is capital and 70 per cent is recurrent.
Recurrent budget is simply salaries, allowances and wages and so on. If you want to be objective and not sentimental – you’re saying that you’re prepared to spend 70 per cent of your budget on the unproductive public sector. Because our public sector is unproductive, i repeat, in the sense that if our public sector has been productive why we are we having low development. But you’re spending so much money on it, and there is nothing to show for it, in our hospitals, schools among others.
If you want good education now you don’t send your child to public school but private school. If you want quick medical attention, you either leave the country or go to a private hospital. And this is public sector where 70 per cent of our budget goes and nobody is talking about the inefficiency. Somebody now asked me that if you’re critical about unproductive nature of our public sector, what are we going to do about it, my answer was that, take away money from it and put into the capital side of the budget, and do it two weeks.
Many countries, take Frances for instance, and if you watch the debate about candidates that is going for presidential election next year, they said there going to cut the work force in the public sector so that more money can be saved for development in the states. So, there is no argument about unproductive nature of our public services totally. Where there is a broken down vehicle in a department, the vehicle is not working, but then there are 8 drivers in employment been paid.
Where one cleaner is enough for an office, there are five, six or 10, where there should be messenger, they are probably be 10 or more. You may argue that it’s an employment, but this is unproductive employment. So, on that aspect I don’t advocate people should be retrenched, but then you should adjust their payment to reflect the reality of the public sector, particularly in view of the fact that no government is willing to pay a minimum wage of N18, 000, and yet there exist’ in the public sector where there is unproductivity, but salaries, ranging from perhaps N100, 000, a month up to several millions. So, this is where to go.
The gradual reductions of salaries of people earning in excess of N50, 000 in a month, where some people are not earning up to N18, 000 a month, are being paid higher. So, you should now move from that point upward and go up to point where, rather than reduction by five percent, you can reach a point where you should be able to reduce salary by at least 50 up to 70 per cent.
The person who suffers that reduction should be able to go to the same market where somebody with 50,000 is going. But were very many people are earning 20,000, like primary school teachers’ policemen are earning less than 30,000, 40,000. So you can imagine, there is this inequity in our public service in terms of the reward system, and the reward system need to be corrected to reflect that the country is poor and that everybody is going to make his own scarifies. You expect ordinary man who cannot eat twice or three times in a day to make the scarifies while you are prepare to go and shop for your food in Lebanon or in Dubai or in England weekly from the same country, and nobody is talking about it.
I watched discussions by the national economic council, presided over the vice president, who has statutory duty as chairman of the economic council, but nobody was talking about the unproductive nature of public services and the inequity in the reward system that pays highly for an unproductive sector of the economy. So these are the things. I don’t believe in retrenchment but reduce salaries, and divert salaries to productive areas.
Unless this is done I cannot see where Nigeria is going to save money. I agree entirely with Obasanjo, even though we don’t usually agree on many things, that we should not borrow money, with the way they’re going to borrow money.
With our decimated naira, you want to go and borrow dollar, how do you pay? Generations to come will not be able to pay. And they have abandoned the real sector of the economy where there is a good possibility of recovery. Take for example; the largest employer of this country is agriculture. Sixty to seventy of our labor force derived their livelihood from agriculture either directly or indirectly.
But look at the 2016 budget, only 1.2 percent of capital budget was given to agriculture that contributed 35-40 percent of the GDP. And somebody is saying that agriculture is going to replace oil, and is not something that you dream of it; you have to work for it to get it worked. I worked for my entire carrier in that sector. We did the ground nut pyramid, cotton dumps; this country was dependent until 1974, as its foreign exchange earnings on agriculture. General Gowon fought a civil war without borrowing a kobo.
It was in 1974 when we got lost about this so call revenue from oil. Instead of investing in productive areas we decided to go for wide elephant project and of course we decided to kept stealing from it, and that is why today in all the investigations your seen billions in account of people, who, if they are to work for 1,000 years they will not be able to save this kind of money they have stolen. So, these are the things. Although, Buhari is trying to do his work on the issue of corruption, but corruption is fighting him back. You could see it very clearly. (To be concluded next week)
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