Former Military Head of State, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, in this interview he granted to Arise Television, speaks on several issues bordering on the state of the nation. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI who monitored the session for Daily Independent brings the excerpts:
Fundamentally, Nigeria is still struggling to be a nation, whatdoyouthinkiswrongatthebase that the Fulani man doesn’t seem to have a sense of belonging, the Igbo man doesn’t, the Yoruba man doesn’t, everybody is thinking about their own part of the country, what do you think is responsible for that?
On the contrary I think again if you look back, if you take a place like Baga up in the North east, the Igbo man, the Yoruba man travels up to Baga for trading, he lived very comfortably, he lived very well with the people around there, they do their normal trading and so on. Even politically, in Enugu, in the 50s you had an Hausa man who was a mayor. If you go to Lagos the same thing, you have Yorubas, Igbos who are holding political appointments at local levels and live very well with the people. I think we the elites we did not succeed in imbibing that culture for the country so we rather lived with the culture that Europeans handed over to us, distinct Northern Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigeria until the first time when we had Midwestern but we did not mould ourselves as a nation. So, I feel very strongly that was what happened. The political elites then that were being developed they ran back to their cocoons and accept that yes, I have to be an Igbo man to be this or that and till today unfortunately, the political class are not going into this very seriously and say how do we build a nation?.
So how do we build a nation?
We have to rewrite the narrative. Okay, You are now arguing among yourselves on how to build political parties; we knew it was doable because we did it, we had political parties that were being led by people from other parts of the country and they blended very well, they talked to people, they had the same common vision about this country, what they want the country to be and I give you an example. I believe in free market economy so anybody who will come to talk and not talk about free market economy I wouldn’t talk with him because we don’t have core values in this country. These are core values beyond which no one is going to allow you to do anything and the politicians, the elites all. I think we have to blend in this country.
Would you say then that the tyranny of the elites is what has contributed to the security situation for example that Nigeria finds itself now; banditry, kidnapping in north east, north west and secessionist sentiments in the South East and even South West, banditry, kidnapping all across the country, what do you think is the fundamental problem and what is the way out of the vicious cycle of insecurity?
I think the problem is leadership. There is a disconnect between the leadership and the followership. If there is no disconnect, when people connect with each other at the various leadership levels and talk about the community, state and federation, then we will not have problems whatsoever. But we don’t have core values in the country that everybody depends and defends all the time. You defend that core value and this is what you believe in, anything short of that are not going to be acceptable. I give you an example, when we were in the military we talked about settled issues about Nigeria. The unity of Nigeria as far as we were concerned was a settled issue. Presidentialism was a settled issue, free market economy was a settled issue, not socialism, the federation was a settled issue. Nobody will come and say that Nigeria is no longer a federation.
When you say settled issue, are you saying in another way that it is not negotiable because seem to be the refrain?
But some argue that it should be negotiable. That we should sit down at a table to decide whether we want to be one and if we want to go our separate ways, why not?
No. We decided to be one how many years ago, about 50, 51 years ago and we have been in that position for the last 51 years. Why should we keep on repeating ‘let’s sit down?’ You can have not less than five or 100 conferences in this country that Nigerians themselves sat down and talked about on how to remain one , how to work with the federating units in this country, how to operate locally and so on. I think there are issues we shouldn’t be talking about now.
What should we be talking about?
We should be talking about how to encourage, how to strengthen what we have agreed. If we agree we are going to be united Nigeria since 51 years ago, we should now be talking on how to strengthen that unity. If we are going to have a federating unit, we should not be talking about how we want to see our federation. If we want to talk about the local governments on how they should have free fund , whether they should govern themselves, we should be talking about how that should be achieved.
So what is the way out?
The way out, when I told you leadership, the leaders should understand Nigeria and Nigerians so anybody who wants a position of leadership, you must be a person who will be able to use your intellect to benefit Nigerians. There are things you believe whether in Niger or wherever and I want to lead a state, fine, this is an agrarian state, my thought will be how to take advantage of that God-given situation to better the wellbeing of the people.
Do you think it is just the lack of understanding of Nigerians that is missing or just outright lackofloveandcareinNigeria, whatisactually missing?
From my experience, Nigerians are very resilient people, very fertile minded people so if you want to lead them you have to take a lot of things into consideration. They are very good, very resilient, very industrious so how do I put all these together to get a common objective?
So is that where restructuring for example comes in? Some people have blamed you as part of the problem in terms of the structure of the country presently; you created 11 states during your time as military president which some say further alienated the leadership from the people and you’ve been quoted as saying that the time to restructure Nigeria is now, if we say restructuring is the way to go, what manner of restructuring are we talking about, is it regionalism or what?
No. It is amazingly interesting. If you check from my findings, restructuring means different things to different people in this country. We don’t have a common interpretation. That’s a basic common problem that we are going to have. What does it mean? We have not defined it. The way I see it is what we started.
Give the people from the lowest to the highest level opportunity to determine how they are governed or in governance. I will tell you a story. We had Reverend Adasu, may he rest in Peace, I had an argument with him, he was a governor in Benue. One of the local governments was NRC and he was SDP and he decided he was going to cut his funding for the local government. The information got to me and I called him, he is a very good friend of mine. So I said ‘Reverend, come let’s talk’. We sat down and I said why did you cut funding to the local government? He said no because he was not in the same party. I said look, this man went round the local government he campaigned and told people vote for me, I will provide this for you. People accepted and based on that, it was on that basis they voted for him even if he is responsible, you promised them A, B, C D and it was on that basis they voted for you so why not give him his money and hold him responsible, you promised them ABCD what have you achieved? Because you are on top and they are your people; you should be their governor notwithstanding if you have different political belief. He looked at me and said I should be a politician. I said no, I will rather be a Reverend but this is the argument. I argue with a lot of my friends. I believe for example in resource control but mention it to a lot of people in this country, somebody will cut off your head.
Why won’t they have resource control, what is responsible for that?
I think it is this belief that this is our own God-given thing in our own environment; I want my people to benefit from it, this is our own area, this possession thing.
Let me explore the issue of local government you just talked about, the current President Muhammadu Buhari signed Executive Order 10, the governors frowned at it. I remember during your time you increased allocation from 10 to 20 per cent what are your thoughts on that, don’t you think the governors should take a lot of responsibility from the way local government situation is now?
This is where your restructuring comes in. At the state level, I want to see a situation where the governor is there, the constitution describes his area of responsibility, it defines his powers; anything that has to do with administration at the local government level the state governor does not have to but if it comes to something bigger like during some disasters the state can come in to help the local government that’s what I am saying. The laws are there. I saw somebody talking about the concurrent and exclusive lists that is something along that line I am not a lawyer, I have no idea but I think it should give people more within their capability, give them more control over their affairs over their resources.
Would you connect the structure of the polity to the dismal state the Nigerian economy actually finds itself? Under you, you introduced SAP which objective was diversification of the economy away from dependency on oil to bring about inclusiveness, bring in more people and liberalise the economy, Nigeria is still grappling with the economy, struggling to keep the dollar stable which was one of the things you wanted to do with SAP, stabilise forex, we are still where we were during your government, What do you think is responsible for that and how can Nigeria fix the economy beyond what some will describe as panic mode?
That’s the right word, I think panic mode. I think it is the consistency in the policy and say ‘yes this is the right thing to do and keep it going and not to be swayed by other people’s opinion’. If you believe in the right thing, pursue it but keep on explaining it to the people also, we insist in this because of this, maybe one day they will get fed up and say go ahead and do it or become even more informed.
What do you make of this administration’s handling of the economy so far?
For the fact that it hasn’t collapsed, so I think they are trying to keep it moving.
What are the indices that make you think they are doing or should be done to actually move the economy forward?
I think it is to mobilise the people towards achieving this common objective. You should prove to them they can do it, the resources are there and you are there to provide the leadership and to support them.
Are you concerned that the Naira side by side the dollar is about 550 presently, what do you have to say to that?
It says a lot but I think we can address it with production. Once people can produce a lot of things they can easily sell either export or within the country I think it will stabilise.
How can that production come about and you have unemployment at about 33 per cent, you have a huge youth population, almost 70 per cent of the population are youths and yet Nigeria Is the poverty capital of the world?
There is too much control in the way the economy is being run, we should open it further, if we do that and tap into the God-given talent that we have, I think we will go far.
Let’s go back to insecurity, what would be your recommendation in terms of the need to train the military, is the military overwhelmed and some people will argue ?
Not overwhelmed but maybe overstretched. The military I believe has the wherewithal to fight this banditry and bring the system back but I think the problem is that they are doing too much, they are overstretched and subsequently because of the space they have to occupy they have fairly obsolete equipment. But one of the most important thing which they don’t have to lose sight of is the fact that the military must believe in what they are fighting for, they must be provided with the wherewithal to meet up with that objective of the country and then it must be well trained and well led.
Do you think leadership is what is missing at that level?
I think they should do more from my experience, they should do more.