Prof Ango Abdullahi, a former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, is the spokesperson for the Northern Elders Forum (NEF). In this interview, Abdullahi speaks on the two years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and the agitation by some Igbo elements for the Biafra state, among other issues of national importance.
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari is two years. What is your take?
My take is the Nigerian take. You are the people who move around to speak to Nigerians to find out if things have changed in the way that Nigerians had hoped before they cast their last vote for the current leadership in the country. But, to me, personally, life has not changed for me and my family; maybe I was out looking out for anything other than the hope for peace and tranquility to prevail in the country. So, on that score, I will say that, perhaps, the country is a little bit more peaceful now in the sense that the insurgency has been reduced, even if not completely removed.
On the other hand, I receive visitors, young people who come in asking to be assisted to secure jobs and so on and so forth. They know that something is not totally correct with the economy; two major indicators, our naira has been decimated, to me, to nothing because, at my age having seen one Naira exchanged for one dollar and forty cents and to now put together 300+ Naira officially for me to get one dollar something is basically not right there. And until, I have always made this very clear, we can do something about this foreign exchange rate- and for-a country that produces nothing, it has to buy everything, we are going to have a hard drive, if we are able to drive at all, to recover. It is going to be near impossible to recover with this exchange rate, it is a major problem.
But the Minister of Finance spoke a few days ago, saying Nigeria is recovering.
She should tell us how we are recovering. Check your pocket if we are recovering, check your soup pot if we are recovering, check everything in terms of cost; how are we recovering? If the government must change gear, what must the government do now? It is going to be difficult for this government or any government for that matter because these decisions as they affect the economy require an approach which is not orthodox.
Take for example, Donald Trump, who only recently assumed office as the President of the United States of America, said ‘America first, America second, America third, employ America by America’ and so on and so forth. This is what every country now has to do. This is a policy to protect America, annunciation by the leader of the capitalist world, protecting the American economy and the American people and this is the kind of courage that African leaders require to get up and say ‘my country first, my country second, my country third’.
This is what happened to quite a number of countries: The Chinese did the same, they disappeared for some time and now they have resurfaced as one of the leaders of the world because they protected themselves, they protected their country. In Africa today, there are only two or three countries that are going in that direction: Rwanda, Zimbabwe and the same thing perhaps to some extent Uganda.
But the rest of the countries (in Africa) are just appendages of colonial mentality and Nigeria is one of them. Nigeria is an appendage of colonial mentality and that is why we have not moved, 60years; Nigeria cannot produce 4,000megawatts of electricity that is not big enough for a village in Europe, for about 200million people. Something is wrong basically.
One major conference that is required is a conference on attitudinal change by Nigerians, particularly those of us the elite.
Who should organize that?
Nigerians who worry about Nigeria. I attended four constitutional conferences in the last 20years but where are we? Our paper work, well-written and so on, but nothing on ground. And when you look at it very carefully, it is we the elite and that is why I keep talking about the elite being responsible for what is happening to Nigeria and they have to do something about it. 2019 is about two years away, but some people are already talking about it.
What shape should it take?
The shape that Nigerians want it to take because if Nigerians are complaining that things are not going well for Nigeria and, by implication, things are not going well for Nigerians, 2019 means an opportunity for them to ‘shine their eyes well’ well and look for leadership because the problem, in my view in this country, had always been poor and inept leadership, particularly after our fathers politicians of the First Republic) have gone.
Each time I speak, I give very high credit to our founding fathers, they did extremely well with very little. In their hands, the country had no means of getting huge resources except from our agricultural products, yet these people did what they did; infrastructure, tell me what infrastructure has been added seriously on top of what they have done? The railway, the ports, the airports and so on, just tell me; in spite of the billions of naira that is coming or that is supposed to be coming into the Nigerian coffers, what has happened?
At what point did President Muhammadu Buhari get it wrong?
I gave a number of interviews on the man; good man, no doubt, but he got it wrong because he got the wrong team, that is it. Not one single person to run the country, you need competent hands everywhere to get it going.
Did he consult with people like you before he made his appointments?
No, no. But if there had been sufficient guidance through consultations, a lot of the initial mistakes about the take-off could not have been avoided It is better to say that the team he has chosen to deal with the socio-economic challenges of this country was not quite well chosen and I think what happened was that the choice of the team was driven more by political patronage than really looking at the competence of people that will come and help the President and the government to run a more efficient system of administration.
How should the Federal Government respond to the renewed Biafra agitation?
Well, we should be mindful of the fact that the renewed agitation cannot be detached from the politics of Nigeria. It is not new and not different from normal politicking that has been taking place in Nigeria since independence. Politics? Why lump the agitation with politics? Biafra agitation arose from the Nigerian political process. It came from a power struggle in the First Republic, which culminated in the assassination of the First Republic leaders and the subsequent emergence of Ojukwu. Incidentally, it was Ojukwu, who suspected that the Igbo were being attacked whereas it was the Igbo who attacked Nigeria.
Attacked Nigeria? Is this revisionism or what? They were the ones being attacked in the North and they had to flee… (Cuts in)
It should be noted that Ojukwu, assisted by Igbo intellectuals, thought they should pocket the rest of Nigeria. Thus, the so-called Biafra agitation is rooted in the 1966 coup and I want to say that if people are still asking for Biafra almost 50 years after the civil war, then it is necessary for us to sit down and ask ourselves how we want the nation to be. That’s exactly what the Igbos are asking for – let’s sit down and discuss but it seems that is not falling on good ears? In dealing with the renewed Biafran agitation, the Federal Government should adhere strictly to the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution relating to the rule of law. Accordingly, the Federal Government should be firm in dealing with any individual or group trying to create problems for the rest of Nigeria under any guise.
This interview by Henry Umoru was originally published in the Vanguard