ELDER statesman and Nigeria’s Representative to the United Nations in 1979, Dr. Yusuf Maitama Sule, has called a revolution without bloodshed.
Sule, who spoke in an interview with The Guardian, urged Nigerian leaders to be good representatives of the people, saying that a good leader only inspires citizens to good behaviour.
“When I call for a revolution, let me make it quite clear, that I am not calling for a bloody revolution, but a cultural revolution. I am calling for Mahatma Gandhi kind of revolution, non-violent resistors. And we can make it. A good leader will inspire his people as people take cues from their leaders,” he said.
“When Murtala Muhammed came into power, within six months, he started giving this country a sense of direction. Did he kill anybody? When Buhari was in power, in 18 months, he instilled discipline into the society, he raised the moral tone of the society, he fought corruption and he was giving the country a sense of direction. Did he kill anybody? So, you do not have to kill, once you have a good leader, who will lead by example, people will follow and the society will change.”
According to the elder statesman, for as long as youths continue to succumb to the whims of greedy politicians, there would be no change. Urging young Nigerians come to terms with the fact that they are the future of the country, Maitama Sule said: “If you decide to mar it by accepting few things, collecting money from politicians, so that they will achieve their selfish aims, you will be marring your future and you will inherit an inglorious future. If you make up your mind to make the future and refuse to succumb to the machinations of these greedy politicians, you will pave way for a great Nigeria and you will inherit a glorious future. The youths are the vehicles and answer, the solutions to the problems, the vehicles of change and the vanguard of revolution.”
NIGERIA is often regarded as the giant of Africa but that recognition seem to have been lost, how did we lose it?
Nigeria started very well, very well, because our founding fathers Azikiwe, Sardauna, Awolowo, even Aminu Kano, were very good leaders, who laid a very sound foundation for Nigeria. They were leaders, who in spite of their political differences, even religious and tribal differences were always ready to come together in the interest of Nigeria.
These were people who accommodated, not just tolerated, one another. And all of them were ready to place national interest above their personal interests. They respected one another, in spite of these differences they had and Nigeria was their main concern. These were people who went into politics to serve but not to be served, to give but not to take. Nigeria was their main concern. And that was why they worked together; they cooperated with one another to move the country forward. And that was how they were able to lay a sound foundation for this great country. It was also for this reason that Nigeria was respected and Nigerians wherever they went in those days held their heads high; they were admired, loved and respected. And indeed, Nigeria, because of our population and resources, was expected to give the lead to the rest of the continent. I still believe Nigeria is a potential leader but we need to work hard in order to realise the potential greatness of Nigeria and we need to do a lot at home, so that when we go out we would be respected and our leadership would be accepted.
In the first republic therefore, Nigeria was so much respected that people thought in about fifteen to twenty years after independence, with the kind of leadership that we started with, Nigeria would join the leading countries of the world. In deed, there was a report that three developing countries would in fifteen to twenty years join the most industrialized countries of the world. And these three countries were India, Brazil and Nigeria. I think it was because of the leadership, in those countries that today, India has made it, India is a nuclear power, and mark you, India has got all these political, religious, ethnic and tribal differences, one hundred times as many as we have in Nigeria. But in spite of that, they were still able to do it. They are also poor. In spite of the poverty in the country, because of the good leadership, they progressed. In the field of computer technology, India is in the forefront. It produces more doctors than any country in the world today. India manufactures planes, cars and weapons of all kinds. India builds ships. Indeed, India has the second fastest moving economy in the world, second only to China.
So India has made it. Brazil, another of the three countries, has also made it because Brazil’s economy is stronger than that of Britain. Brazil builds ships, manufactures planes and cars and weapons of all kinds, and it has about the best agriculture programme in the world. Brazil has made it too. Incidentally, Brazil and Nigeria established their defence industries the same year. So, while Brazil is building ships and manufacturing planes, our defence industry is yet to build a tanker. Leadership, I think it is.
In 1961 or 62, I was invited by the students of the University of Ibadan to give a convocation lecture. And I told them; I do not know how, probably a product of intuition, that Africa will face two or three major problems. One was leadership. Some leaders because of their neurotic ambition, blurred vision, will want to perpetuate their stay in office and till death do us part like church marriage. I foresaw that way back in 1961/62; that we would have problem with leadership. And I am concerned about leadership because everything that happens in a country depends on the quality of the leadership. We have a saying, if a congregation prayer goes wrong, it is the Imam leading it that spoils it. However, Nigeria as I said earlier was very much respected and Nigerians were admired and respected too. What is happening today in the country is not in our character. Ours was a decent society, a disciplined one, where the leaders in spite of their political differences respected one another and cooperated with one another in order to move the country forward. Today, it is not so. Even in the family, in the past, members of a family respected one another, the juniors obeyed and respected their seniors and constituted authority. You might not be a member of the ruling party, still you will respect the authority, you might disagree with the policy, but the respect was there, even though you will express your opposition to the policy.
Then, there was no corruption, or there might be little corruption. Morally, we were sound; this permissiveness now prevalent in the society was not like then. And that is why, I described the situation in which we are today in a negative way. The institution of family has broken down, respect for elders and constituted authority, which used to be a cardinal principle in our society is now at its lowest ebb. Honesty, why it does pay has become meaningless. Symptoms of revolts loom large in the society.
In short, there is meaninglessness in philosophy, insecurity in politics, chaos in politics, immorality in society, and corruption in economy. It was not like that before. Our founding fathers had a dream, they have a dream that in fifteen or twenty years, Nigeria will be truly united and we would be our brothers’ keepers. We would build a sound economy and have political clout to enable us to lead the rest of the countries in Africa and inspire the black race in the world. That was their dream, that dream has not been realised.
But let me make it quite clear, although I have painted the picture black, I still remain optimistic. This is because everything that has a beginning has an end. Only God has no beginning and no end. I believe we would overcome, more especially when I look at and see the crises we had in the past and we overcame. We had Independence crisis in 1952, when Chief Enahoro moved independence motion and members of the North were not ready to support and that brought misunderstanding. In fact, that was the cause of the Kano riot, we overcame. We put behind us all these misunderstandings and came together to start discussing the independence of this country. We had the Census Crisis in 1958, it was about to break the country, but we were able to overcome. We had the Independence Election Crisis. In 1959, when we had the independence election, no one party had an overall majority. There had to be a coalition. At first, some people thought the NCNC and the Action Group; two southern political parties will go into coalition to form the government. Some well-meaning Nigerians advised that it will not look well as the NPC representing more than half the population of the country and in size might feel offended and might want to secede; so there was a negotiation. And we ended up with the NPC and NCNC forming a coalition government. Then we had the controversial election of 1964, two major political parties and four other political parties refused to participate in the elections, the NCNC, Action Group, NEPU and the UNBC. Only the NPC and the newly formed party, UNDP by Chief Akintola went to the polls, and we claimed to have won the elections. And of course, the President, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, then, refused to invite leaders of the winning parties to form the government; that again brought some crisis. Some well meaning people waded into the crisis, reconciled the various political parties and we ended up with what we called a broad based government. We allowed those parties that did not contest to go to contest in their region because it was only in the North and West that we had elections; the East and Mid-west did not. And after the elections, they brought their representatives to join the government. Again, we overcame.
Then the coup came in 1966, if the Prime Minister had made his statement, which he had told both Dr. Mbadiwe and Okotie Eboh the night of the coup, that he would declare a state of emergency in the West, where there was trouble, if he had declared that state of emergency, removed the premier and appointed an administrator, that might have brought to an end the crisis in the West and the country. Unfortunately, it was that same night that he was taken away and he lost his life. And the counter-coup six months after would have led the country to go into pieces; again, some well meaning Nigerians waded into the crisis and the country was saved, and Gowon became the Head of State after Ironsi and the government continued.
Most importantly, Nigeria had a civil war, nobody believed that Nigeria would be the same again after that civil war but here we are today. By the grace of God, we are together. So I believe that in spite of the ugly things that are happening today, we will, by the grace of God, overcome. We shall be united, will be our brothers’ keepers and have good governance. And by the grace of God, Nigeria will become strong, economically, politically, including having the political clout to take our proper place in the comity of nations and lead the blacks in the world and other African countries. This is my belief and God willing, it will come to be.
But in order to have that, we must have good leaders, leaders who are concerned, with the fear of God. Leaders not rulers, leaders not looters, leaders who are honest, have the fear of God and believe that they will stand before God one day to account; leaders who will accept in public what they have accepted in secret. Leaders with a vision not blurred vision, leaders who look at the lots of the common man with the eyes of a compatriot not the eyes of the privileged few. Leaders with fire in their belly but humanity in the heart; fire in their belly so that they may take unpleasant but necessary decisions, humanity in their heart so that in taking such decisions they will tamper justice with mercy. Leaders not rulers, leaders, who know when they are no longer equal to the exigencies of their nation, will have the prudence of handing over to others. Not leaders who will want to perpetuate their stay in office until death do them part, like church marriage.
In order to have that kind of leaders, the youths must be prepared to have good leaders, who have sense of justice and fair play. I foresaw this in 1962/62, what I foresaw then was the political system. Yes, democracy is the best kind of government but democracy is relative. The cultural parameters of the people should determine their style of democracy. Yes, we are practicing democracy in Nigeria and indeed in Africa but the democracy we are practicing is Eurocentric not Afrocentric. We need to take into consideration our own culture and determine our style of democracy. The most important thing in democracy is consultation and doing justice to people. We can do it, Nyerere did it. He introduced what he called Ujama, African kind of democracy and he brought all the people together as the political system was able to do away and eradicate tribal differences, religion, and unite the country and they moved forward and enjoyed relative peace more than any country in Africa then. That was the African kind of democracy. He called it Ujama, I call it Afrocracy.
However, it may be difficult because we have been so used to this way and kind of democracy and may take time to convince people to agree to revisit the past and bring out our own type of democracy. Nevertheless, whatever kind of government it is, if we have good leadership, it will work and succeed. So we should look for good leaders.
Like you said, there was this prediction that in fifteen, twenty years after independence Nigeria should be a shining light around the world, respected around the world, but a few years after independence, she was in the middle of a civil war, where did Nigeria miss the mark?
That was where we missed the mark, the first coup. Our leaders then, yes, we made mistakes, but we had made mistakes before and were able to correct them. We came together and moved forward. Those people who staged the original coup, if they had given us time, we would have overcome because as I said, the Prime Minister was about to make a statement in the parliament to declare a state of emergency in the West, which would have brought to an end the crisis then in the country. We were not allowed. So that hurt the good leadership that we started with. The Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Nehu were regarded as the best leaders in the developing world, men of integrity, both moral and financial, men who were only concerned with the welfare of their people. Men, who wanted to see the reputation of their country kept high, these were the leaders. So while other countries continued with the right leadership, which was why they made progress, we had the original leadership cut short and that was the beginning.
Are you saying that the military led us into this crisis?
Yes, as I said, if the military had not staged the coup in 1966 and had given us time, we would have overcome the crisis as we overcame the previous crises.
How did you come into government and national service?
It was through election. In 1954, I contested and won election in Kano city and went as the first representative of Kano city in the House of Representatives in Lagos. Five years later, in 1959, I re-contested not in the city, but in one of the constituencies in the rural areas and having won, I was appointed a minister. I was appointed the Minister of Mines and Power. Initially, the Prime Minister wanted me to be the Foreign Minister after independence. As you know, we had election about a year before independence. Indeed, that was why he was preparing me for it, sending me to attend international conferences. I used to represent the Prime Minister at conferences and that was how I got myself to Addis Ababa in June 1960, attending the conference of independent African states, at which conference, I brought the suggestion that the two warring factions, the Monrovia group, which was our group and Casablanca bloc, the radicals led by Nkrumah should please forget their differences and come together to form a continental government with a view to bringing about understanding. It was at that conference that the Nigerian delegations made this suggestion that these two groups should come together to form a continental organisation in the likes of the organisation of America states, with a permanent secretariat and Secretary General and that was how the OAU was conceived. After that, there was consultation, a year or two after the OAU came into being.
What was the motivation when you contested?
It was the love of the country. Since my school days, I had always wanted and prayed that I find myself in the position of serving people. There was no talk of politics then in the North but in the South there were political movements. When I was in the college, we used to steal the West African Pilot into the school because the school authorities did not allow us to read the paper because of the Political content. I became interested. When I left school and had my training as a teacher, I went to Lagos on educational excursion in 1947. And on my way back from Lagos, we traveled on the same train with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe; in fact, we were in the same coach. And he engaged me in talks and I was very much impressed. Of course, I became more convinced that I should do something politically. So when I returned home and started teaching, I did not start political movement or activities, I started with Kano Citizens Association. I wanted the citizens of Kano to be united first, charity, begins at home. You only start from the known to the unknown, the familiar to the unfamiliar. It was that Kano Citizens Organisation that amalgamated with similar organisations in the North like Sokoto Youth Development Organisation formed by Shagari, who was a schoolteacher too and Arewa Youth formed by Mallam Gusau in Kaduna, the Bauchi Discussion Circuit formed by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Amino Kano and another similar organisation in Zaria formed by Dr. Dikko. We had our annual meetings of the Northern Teachers Association in Zaria and it was there that the idea came to us, as there was an awakening that these organisations springing up should come together to form one organisation, cultural though, for the North. And that was how NPC came to be. It was a cultural organisation at first. It was in June 1949 that we launched the NPC in Kaduna, with Dr. Dikko; mark you, a Christian as the first President of NPC. The northerners elected a Christian in 1949 as their leader. It was later that NEPU came into being because some people broke out from NPC to form NEPU. After that, NPC became a political party and Dr. Dikko as a civil servant had to resign because as a civil servant he should not take part in politics.
So I had always been interested in politics since my school days, and people like Dr. Azikiwe and Mallam Aminu Kano, through their speeches and poems, which were politically inclined, encouraged me.
After the 1959 election, the Prime Minister appointed me the minister of Mines and Power. And I was in charge of oil and other minerals including electricity. I succeeded Ribadu, who was before me minister of Mines and Power. I saw the development of oil industry in Nigeria. Indeed, with all humility, I am yet to see anything new in the oil industry, we started it. Shell was the only company; it had complete monopoly of oil exploration in those days. And on the advice of my Chief Petroleum Engineer, a fine man, an honest man, Chief Feyide, and of course, the support and encouragement of my Permanent Secretary, another decent gentleman, Musa Daggash, we fought Shell to surrender part of its concessions to give to other companies. This is because we argued that we must encourage competition within the industry. We could not allow one company to be operating. We had a lot of resistance from them but eventually we succeeded and they surrendered part of their concession and we invited other companies. And these companies came and took up concessions. Then we discovered that the new companies belong to the same club as Shell. Chief Feyide again advised me that we must go to Italy and invite an Italian oil company to come to take concession because it was the only company that was not in their club. However, when we went to Italy, and met Mr. Pate, the chairman of the Italian National Oil Company, he warned me, saying if I was not afraid of the powerful oil companies, they could destroy me, they could finish me. I said no, I am not afraid of them, I said God made me and only God can unmake me. All I wanted from you sir is to give us better offers so that I can justify my invitation to you because I know as at now, they (Shell and others) are going round campaigning and lobbying to make sure that you do not come in. But if you come with a better offer, I can go to the cabinet to argue and justify my invitation. He agreed to come and that was how AGIP came. And they gave better offers, higher royalties and offered us participation if we wanted, offered us training and on and so forth. When there was this question of refinery, I built the first refinery in Port Harcourt, I commissioned it because my argument then was, as an oil producing country we must have refineries. How can we produce oil and send it abroad. Then, we discovered something, if we wanted to get the maximum benefits from oil we must employ qualified people, qualified oil lawyers, accountants, and engineers. But these oil workers were highly paid by the oil companies, if you bring them into the ministry, they will work under the permanent secretary, and they will not earn more than the permanent secretary. And a permanent secretary’s salary was chicken feed in the oil industry. So we decided to take the oil section from the ministry and established an independent organisation. We formed the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and gave them the independence and allowed them to employ the people of the right caliber and remained the supervising ministry. Later the NOC became the NNPC.
I got Nigeria into OPEC, again, I had problem with the oil companies. They did not want Nigeria to join OPEC. I remember some of these companies told the Prime Ministers that members of OPEC were socialists inclined and that Nigeria was a respected country and should not join clubs of troublemakers. Of course, I explained to the Prime Minister that OPEC was an organisation of oil producing and developing countries and Nigeria is an oil producing and a developing country. Members of OPEC came together to discuss their common problems and seek solution to them. Secondly, if oil companies and buyers would come together in their own interest, why should we the sellers not come together?
There was one interesting thing, which unfortunately was being misunderstood. I remember the Eastern Region then, our oil exploration was onshore not offshore, but then the Eastern Region got to know that most of our oil was from offshore, they came with the argument that territorial waters should belong to the region. And I could understand because if territorial waters belonged to the region, all the resources in the water would belong to the region. I argued against it because you cannot claim something that you cannot defend. You have no Navy to defend the waters.
Secondly, it was not the practice anywhere in the world. Territorial waters belong to the central authority not the regional government. However, I had to appoint a committee comprising of representatives of the regional governments and the federal government to go round the world, visit several oil producing countries and find out what is obtained in those countries in respect of territorial waters. The committee did and came back and reported unanimously that territorial waters belong to the central authority.
The interesting thing was that the Prime Minister was NPC, so also the minister of Mines and Power and we were in charge of oil but then when the people in the Niger Delta decided to form a political party, which they called the Niger Delta People’s Congress, they went into alliance with NPC. They did not go into alliance with NCNC, the party in power in their region, neither Action Group, the party in the Southwest, but they formed alliance with the ruling party from the North. Why? I believe the reason is that the Prime Minister never bothered himself about production except what benefits it would bring to the people. During my seven years in that ministry 1959-66, not once did the Prime Minister send anybody to me, his relations, friends, colleagues or companies he was interested to give a license to, a concession or oil well. Neither did he have one nor did I have one. How could I when my master did not have one? Indeed, when the Prime Minister was killed in the coup of 1966, he had no kobo in his bank account. And in all humility, I had to borrow money from my permanent secretary and a friend in Lagos to send my family home. I had no bank account because I got my salary in cash. But we enjoyed it.
It was a different Nigeria, I, a young minister, a northerner, member of the NPC, will drive myself in the evening, I had no orderly, I never had one. I will leave my driver back home and drive myself into the city of Lagos, and my friends in Lagos will stop me in the middle of the street and force me out of the car and we would start embracing one another singing and dancing, omo pupa o, omo pupa lemi fe, (I want a beautiful fair lady, it is she I would marry). Those were the days. Lagos was a Yoruba town; the Action Group controlled it, yet, I was an NPC member, a northerner feeling like a Lagos man. They use to call me Onikoyi of Ikoyi, the Bada of Lagos. Those were the days, we were brothers. I used to tell people that in those good days, parties in Lagos were incomplete without some of us. Benson, GM Johnson, Samuel Adewole- the boy is good, Prince Sijuwade, now Oni of Ife and my humble self. The girls will refuse to go to parties if we were not there. And nobody thought of anybody’s tribal, religious or political background. Those were the days. May God grant that those days come back again!
How was it coming back to Kano prior to the civil war?
Yes, after the coup, I came back to Kano. Six months after that coup, there was a counter coup, which brought Gowon to power and he created states, Kano State was one of them and our first military governor was Audu Bako. He appointed me commissioner for Local Government later he moved me to Ministry of Forestry, Cooperative and Community Development. From there, I went to the Ministry of Information. It was from Information that I went back to Lagos as the first chairman of National Council for Arts and Culture. This was because in 1975, I was elected by the then Nigeria Arts Council as the President. I was not an artiste but they argued that they wanted a rallying figure and they knew I was interested in culture. So, Segun Olusola, Mapo Rabo, Wole Soyinka and the rest of them, they were the artistes and they elected me President of the Nigeria Arts Council. And I toured round Nigeria in my capacity as the President of Nigeria Arts Council, believe you me, I discovered to my pleasant surprise that the so-called different cultures in Nigeria are after all, basically the same. It was the same respect for elders, morality, honesty and even the setting of the compounds were the same! I discovered that even the household utensils were the same, cooking pots, grinding stones, water pots. I discovered that there are more things that are common to us in the so-called different cultures than those that are different. We were doing very well and with that organisation, we had hope that we would really promote unity in the country. And of course we started doing things, but which made the government uncomfortable. Every year, you know these artistes, they are in the media and everywhere and at the end of every year, I will issue a presidential address to the nation, as if I were the president of the country. And you know some of them were powerful writers. One day, we called for a culture revolution. We called for a revolution and the government became worried. They said, ‘if we arrest them, we would create more trouble, if we leave them, we would not feel comfortable. The best thing is to say that this organisation is very important and their aim is very good, so government would like to take it over’. So they took it over and changed it to the National Council for Arts and Culture and made me the first chairman of the council.
Not long after, Gowon was overthrown; Murtala said he did not like me to be doing dancing and singing. And I said it is not; culture is much more than what he thinks, but he did not understand and did not agree, as he said that he has a better job for me. He wanted me to be the ombudsman, the first Public Complaint Commissioner. So l left the National Council for Arts and Culture to be the first Public Complaint Commissioner, until 1978 when they decided to hand-over power.
You talked about the important role of the leader in getting things right, are the followers doing their bit?
For so long as the youths will continue to succumb to the greedy politicians, there would be no change. The youths must realise that they are the future. You are the future leaders, the future is yours. You can make it or mar it. If you decide to mar it by accepting few things, collecting money from politicians, so that they will achieve their selfish aims, you will be marring your future and you will inherit an inglorious future. If you make up your mind to make the future and refuse to succumb to the machinations of these greedy politicians, you will pave way for a great Nigeria and you will inherit a glorious future. The youths are the vehicles and answer, the solutions to the problems, the vehicles of change and the vanguard of revolution.
Though, they need elders to guide them because the best organisation is a combination of the old and the young. You need the maturity, experience and wisdom of the old as well as the dynamic and radicalism of the youths. So the youths, even though they are the future, they need the advice and guidance of the old, but responsible and reliable old people. Not undesirable, waste product of humanity.
So we can do it and bring about the change but the youths must make up their mind and they must get away with this idea of new breed, new breed, which got into the heads of some of our young people and made them think they can do it alone. You cannot, even the leading countries in the world have some powerful old people behind the scene to guide them, advise them, even scold them at times. That is the secret of their success. Our youths must learn that they need elders. In the past, before the White Man came to our shores, we used to have Council of Elders, old people who are not interested in holding any position, but are interested in the country and the future of the country and they gave advice to the authorities. We no longer have that because we now have a new policy of new breed, the old breed must be done away with because they have exhausted their usefulness. But new breed without the old breed will breed greed.
But when I called for a revolution, let me make it quite clear, that I am not calling for a bloody revolution, but a cultural revolution. I am calling for Mahatma Gandhi kind of revolution, non-violent resistors. And we can make it. A good leader will inspire his people as people take cues from their leaders. When Murtala came into power, within six months he started giving this country a sense of direction. Did he kill anybody? When Buhari was in power, in eighteen months, he instilled discipline into the society, he raised the moral tone of the society, he fought corruption and he was giving the country a sense of direction, did he kill anybody? So you do not have to kill, once you have a good leader, who will lead by example, people will follow and the society will change.
What is your position on rotational presidency?
As far as I am concerned, we have accepted to adopt a federal system of government, we have agreed to practice democracy; we should therefore allow democracy to work. Let anybody from anywhere, whatever religion or tribe he belongs to contest the election. I do not care who leads the country, so long as he would do justice and fair play, justice and fair play. These are the things I am looking for. This question of, ‘this time is my turn, that time is your turn,’ will encourage a lot of things, corruption and bastardised democracy, because once I am there and I know that I will be there for the next few years and after that somebody will take over, I will make sure that I entrench my own people. In trying to entrench my own people, I will also make sure that if it is possible I stay on so that the people I put in power will not be removed after I might have gone. It is human nature. Leave the thing open, Nigerians want the best and only the best is good for Nigeria. Let him come from the West, East, Niger Delta or the North, anywhere, if he is good, and the people accept him, if he will do justice and fair play.
Behind every crisis in the world, not only in Nigeria, is injustice and the solution to this is justice. I do not care about where the person ruling comes from; I care about his sense of justice and fair play. A good leader is someone with the fear of God, who will not cheat people or kill people because he believes he would stand before God one day to account for what he is doing. A leader that will accept in public what he accepted in secret. You talk of one Nigeria, but when you get to your room you tell your brother, do not trust him, he is not from our tribe or religion. Is that how we can build true Nigeria? We want leaders who will not steal or lie, but with honour.
In tackling corruption, what suggestions will you give?
It is quite easy. So long as you take the man who stole to court and he gets away, we cannot fight corruption. How many people have gone to the court after having been found to have accumulated ill gotten wealth, how many have got away. What we should do if we really want to deal with corruption is to introduce the policy of ‘how did you come about it’. When you get into office, you declare your assets and at the end of your tenure you declare your assets. We know your salaries and allowances. We would then see the difference, so explain, how you came about this. In the absence of explanation, you will forfeit it to the government. You came into government with two houses, now you have got ten or twelve houses, how did you come about it. In the absence of explanation, you forfeit them. This will discourage other people from stealing because what is the use wasting time stealing money and only to be confiscated at the snap of the fingers. The only way to deal with corruption in Nigeria is to introduce the culture of ‘how did you come about it’.
It is also easy to deal with corruption if you have good leaders but if the leaders themselves are thieves they will give room for their colleagues to find a way out to steal.
Every region is claiming to be marginalised, what is the way out of this endless fixation?
If we have a good leader, he will take the country as his own constituency, though we would always have these complaints. In the past, for instance, we used to have an economic council headed by the Prime Minister; all the Premiers of the regions were members with their economic ministers. The economic adviser then was Dr. Pius Okigbo, an Igbo man. He was appointed by the Prime Minister, a northerner. I remember that there was a time when there was an argument in the council, all the Premiers of the region were on one side; the argument became so heated. And Ribadu was furious when the Prime Minister asked Dr Okigbo to give his professional advice. In giving his advice, he supported the Premiers. Ribadu did not take it kindly; he wondered why Okigbo should do that since he was the Federal Government Economic Adviser instead of supporting the stand of the Federal government. But the Prime Minister said Dr Okigbo was not adviser to the Federal Government but Economic Adviser to the Government of the Federation, therefore he accepted his view.
Then, when they met and discussed, they came up with all embracing, comprehensive economic programmes for Nigeria, the regional Premiers then went back to their regions to implement their sections. There was therefore, a comprehensive, all embracing one economic programme for the entire nation, agreed by all the leaders. And there was no question of maginalisation then. And justice and fair play were the perquisites of development.
Looking at our country, we are blessed with resources, natural and human, yet we have not accelerated in terms of development.
During the civil war, we were sent out to campaign for our cause. I went to the United States and I remembered Shehu Shagari went to the Scandinavian countries. When we returned, we compared notes before submitting our reports to General Gowon, the Head of State then. And Shagari told me that he met a friend, a common friend of ours. And the man told him that ‘we know why you are out; you have come to seek for support and favour for your cause. But let me tell you, we do not care about you, all we cared about are your resources, if we could get robots to exploit your resources for us to develop our economy, we would not mind a lot of you being eliminated. But you Nigerians are a peculiar case, you have the population, resources and we know your resources more than you do know about them. All you need in Nigeria is about a fairly long period of say ten to twenty years; you will be able to make it. You will become a very strong economy, will join the economic powers but you need this period of uninterrupted peace. But we would not allow you because if you have this period of peace and stability, you will use your brains and Nigerians have got brains, you will work hard and you are hard working people, you will exploit your resources and you have them in abundance and you will develop your economy. And developing your economy needs a market, you have no problem looking for a market, Nigeria’s population alone will serve the market, in addition the entire West African region will be your market. And if that happens, you will be a torn in our flesh, we would lose our source of raw materials because you will be using them in your factories, we would lose our market because you will be the market and also get other markets in West Africa. So even after your civil war, we would create one problem after another so that you may not enjoy peace and stability that will enable you to develop and become such a strong country.’
So it is up to us.
How do we tackle the issue of Boko Haram?
The Northern Elders Forum went into the matters and visited the places affected, we spoke to the people, we wrote our report, we went to see Mr. President, we submitted our report, he saw us the second time and that was when he set up this Committee for Amnesty and they are working. My belief is, what the tongue can undo, let not the sword be used. We formed this organisation to help government to find peace not only in the North but also across the country. I do not want this matter to be internationalised. It is our own domestic affair and we shall do it. We must help the government, running a Nigerian government, I know, is very difficult. Nigeria is a difficult country to rule, whoever rules Nigeria should be pitied, rather than being envied because it is like a silk gown that you fold one sleeve, the other sleeve unfold itself. We formed this group in order to be partners in progress with the government, to find solution locally to this problem of Boko Haram and by the grace of God, we are beginning to succeed. This time is not for pointing accusing fingers. The question now is, what is wrong and not who is wrong, that is the way to find peace and we would find peace by the grace of God and we are beginning to find it.
Let Nigerians remember one thing that, Nigeria, we have always been told is a great country but I say it is a great country potentially, we need to work hard to realise the potential greatness of the country and we have to respect one another and love one another. We have to do justice to one another as brothers and sisters. After all, Nigerians are very religious people. I sometimes say we are the most religious around the world, both the Christians and the Muslims.
The Nigerian Christians are more religious than their counterparts in other Christendom, and so are the Nigerian Muslims, they are more religious than their counterparts in other Muslims world. And both religions teach moral values, peace with your God and mind. Peace with your fellow man is the teaching of Christianity. The word Islam is peace and the most important aspect of the Islamic worship after the belief in one God is the salat, at the end of your prayer, you say Asamalalekun, which is, peace be unto you all, irrespective of your religion or tribe. So both religions teach peace. Love thy neighbour as you love thyself, my neighbour, it was not qualified. Anybody could be your neighbour. Be at peace with your fellow man, anybody could be your fellow man.
In Islam, the holy prophet of Islam said the angel Gabriel emphasised the importance of good neighbourliness so much that there might be a revelation from God that a neighbour could inherit a neighbour. Be your brothers’ keeper is a common teaching to both religions and there is no religion of God that says you should pressurise somebody to embrace it. The Christians are taught, if you go out to teach the word of God, and they refuse to listen, pick up your shoes, dust them and leave them in peace. On the other hand, Islam says, there is no compulsion in religion; it is a matter of conviction. But more importantly, the essence of every religion of God is love. The Christians say it does not matter how much you may worship God, even if your worship moves mountains, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven unless you have love in your heart. Islam says if you want to get the blessings and forgiveness of God, you must have love in your heart. Somebody asked, love for my kind, no, love for mankind. Indeed, a Muslim saying said this, I see myself as a Christian, sometimes as a Jew, in my heart is Islam, but love is my religion, love is my faith. Love is what is lacking in Nigeria and that is taught in all the religions that we practice. Let us preach love, teach love and live love, if there is love we would not kill one another, and cheat one another. If there were love, we would help one another, and not be unjust to one another, love, love, let there be love.
What was growing up like for you?
It was like anybody else, though my life is full of ups and downs. I had always wanted to serve because even before I went to elementary school, I used to sweep my quarter and the mosque. And I like doing that and helping my friends. I was a child born with the silver spoon but when my family had problems, at that time, we could not even eat. I saw all this in my younger days.
I went to the higher school from the elementary school and my father’s master to whom he was a favourite died and that was when we lost everything. It was difficult. There was a time when we had a holiday, I came home on holiday without anything except my uniform and that uniform was nothing but only my caftan, no trousers, no gown. That was why when I left the school; the first thing I thought was to help my Dad, who treated me very well before things went bad. And I realised that it helped. Every succeeding year became better. You will come across all sorts of difficulties, trials, tribulations and so on. Try to pray to overcome. Luckily, by the grace of God, I like praying and listening to people who are pious.
And in the school then, I came in touch with all sorts of people, not only tribes from Nigeria but also races from outside Nigeria. I schooled with Arabs and Lebanese and of course I am a Kano man, a cosmopolitan place. So right from my youth, I became a Nigerian. I feel comfortable in the mist of any tribal group. I believe that this coming together of different tribes is a blessing.
Kano is what it is today because of its cosmopolitan nature, it is the most advanced and progressive part of Northern Nigeria because all the major tribes in Nigeria, outside their tribal enclaves have their largest concentration in Kano and we have been living together, interacting with one another.