Nigeria Needs a Referendum of continuity or Dispersal - Godwin Isenyo
The Mutawallen Gombe and Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Murtala Aliyu, in this interview with GODWIN ISENYO, explains the ACF’s stand on restructuring and rotational presidency among other issues
Nigeria is 60. What’s your view?
I am also 60 this year. If you look at history and look at how the journey started before independence and today, I think we have not done badly as a nation. We ought to have done better considering our resources and the capacity that we have. As a country, we have grown stronger in the region and the continent even though we are weak economically. We ought to have been better than we are now. The country is more divided than it was at the beginning. This is because governance has become a commercial endeavour. So, when people get to positions, they aggrandise benefits.
Nigerians, especially from the southern parts of the country, have always described the North as a parasite because of the region’s dependence on oil. What do you think of this?
You know because people themselves are not deep on issues, they don’t separate government income from the Gross Domestic Products. Yes, over 90 per cent of income of the government for a long time has come from oil(petroleum), but when you look at the GDP and how the economy grows, the South doesn’t substantially feed the country. Therefore, to look at one side and describe it as parasitic is misunderstanding the whole configuration of the economy. Let me give you an example. After the June 12, 1993 crisis when the South-West rose against other parts of the country, especially the North, by the time the food supply from the region(North) was cut, life in Lagos became unbearable. So, I think Nigerians should understand that the country is like a whole human body such that if anything touches any part, it will affect the entire body. Historically and I want you to endeavour to check, from the 1920s particularly from the year of the amalgamation in 1914 toward the 1950s, the North was sustaining the Federal Government and the southern states. If you look at the earnings of the North at that time, you will find out that the region earned maybe about £800,000 (eight hundred thousand pounds), the South-West earned £300,000(three hundred thousand pounds) while the South-East maybe earned £138,000 (one hundred and thirty eight thousand pounds) and whatever the North earned then, 50% went to the centre and it was shared to cover even the civil service in those days. This had been since the amalgamation period until almost in the 1950s. So, if the North sustained the country that crucial stage of our nationhood and now, the South is contributing, I don’t think there is any problem with that. So, the issue of being parasitic as a region doesn’t arise.
How concerned is the ACF on the education backwardness in the region?
The new leadership of the ACF wants to concentrate on a number of things and politics is the least of those things. We are going to concentrate on the economy, social cohesion and mobilising the people to be self-independent. If you look at the economy of the North, there is no single bank that has substantial northern presence and you know what that means. If you look at primary school, the entrance into primary school is always 50:50 but by the time you get to secondary school, the proportion becomes 70:30 and by the time you get to the university, it becomes 85:15. We are going to look at education. We are going to look at promoting education. We have the moral mission to convince or instigate development.
There have been clamours for political power to shift to the south, especially the southeastern part of the country. However, some groups said power should remain in the north, come 2023. What’s your take on this?
We are confusing party democracy with our own local challenges, I mean, Nigeria’s challenges. You see, political parties should be able to analyse a situation and know the candidate to push forward in an election. So, a political party should restructure itself in such a manner that it will be able to convince me to vote for it. I don’t care where the president of the country comes from. After all, former President Goodluck Jonathan comes from the South-South but I don’t think the geopolitical zone was the biggest beneficiary of his Presidency. President Muhammadu Buhari comes from the North but I am not sure if the North is not complaining. Maybe, some individuals are appointed into positions and are enjoying as individuals. But when you look at it critically, we must grow as a country to go beyond this. Are there people that can deliver? Do you have any agenda that you can present to whichever government to say, ‘look my region is suffering and it won’t be for the region’s benefit but for national benefit’? The North occupies 78 per cent of the country’s landmass and over 50 per cent of the population. By my own education and exposure, personally, I don’t care where the President comes from. And as the ACF, our focus now is not where the President comes from. It is whoever that will come as a candidate whether from the North or South, we are going to confront the person for certain discussions.
Is it right now to drop zoning?
I was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party and zoning was instituted at the time as a fallback to what the defunct National Party of Nigeria did. The NPN did subsidiary zoning. That means, when the president is selected, other positions will be zoned. They (NPN) didn’t zone the President. The President would be elected before all other positions were zoned. After the June 12, 1993 election, the country was a bit unstable, the North came together and said, ‘look all these hues and cries are about the Presidency’. And the North has the capacity to conceding the Presidency to the South. When Dr Goodluck Jonathan became the President, after what the PDP considered as a violation of its own zoning, I didn’t leave the party because Jonathan is from the South. We formed the new PDP at that time. What happened was because of the inability of the government at that time to manage the insurgency in the North but unfortunately, the situation is still not over. The ACF is not a political party. Unfortunately some Nigerians don’t understand what the ACF is about. The ACF is not like Afenifere or Ohaneze. They are different. These are tribal organisations. The ACF has over 300 tribes as members with different religions, cultures and values that just shared common geography. So, the current Chairman of the ACF is from the lower part of Benue State. In fact, from his village, you can actually walk to the South -East.
Why has it been difficult to solve problems of Almajirinci and child marriage in the North?
It’s a cultural issue. I am not saying that it is good, but I am saying that it has a cultural background and I can tell you that the majority of the elites don’t give out their children for marriage at that level. So, the important thing is to keep educating the people on the danger of early marriage. We have to look at the law too. Those responsible for governing the society should be more responsible and responsive to those challenges that will discourage parents from allowing their children to remain in schools. The concept of the Almajirinci before the colonial era system of education was that you were learning two things: learning and understanding the words. And that was why they travelled. But today, it is a different thing. I think government should integrate the western education with Islamic education. We at the ACF are also making efforts to educate government and parents on what to do in that aspect. I went through the public primary school, I didn’t carry bowls to beg but we sat in the same class and learned with them(Almajirai). Government must modernise the system to accommodate the sensitivity of the people. Somebody is a Muslim and he wants Islamic education, give it to him. If somebody is a traditional worshipper, allow him. I schooled in the South-West. During the Oro Festival, officially schools would be shut down because the culture required that. So, we obeyed. Also, there is issue of demography. We have parents who are married to two or three wives and bear so many children. I think this is another factor that gives rise to giving birth to children that parents can’t adequately care for. We must educate the people on how to manage our population. That’s one thing that we are going to do at the ACF. If you a Dangote of our world and you say you will give birth to 100 children, fine. But not when you don’t have the means and you give birth to so many children that will become burden to the society. We are going to educate people on quality of life. It’s a challenge but we will try. It is not a Northern problem alone. One day, I was in Lagos, specifically Lekki taking a stroll one evening. In front of each house that I passed, there were no fewer than five men. Guess what? They are all from the north. I asked my friend ‘do you know what this means? It’s not just a northern problem but we in the North since we are on the frontline, we will try and solve the problem.
There has been a clamour for restructuring. What is your view?
What is restructuring? Everybody has his own definition of restructuring. Some say it is fiscal federalism while others say it is power devolution. It depends on what the proponent of restructuring wants. Historically, the North wanted ‘confederation’; the South-West wanted ‘federalism’ while the South-East wanted ‘unitary’ at that time because they had advantage of education. Then, 70% of the civil service and 70% of the officers’ corps of the military were from the East. So, they were looking for a unitary arrangement. The North was feeling suffocated, so, the region asked for confederation. Now, the table has turned.
Why is the North afraid of restructuring?
The North is not actually afraid of restructuring. What we want is that ‘let’s define what is it that we want.’ If we want to be in Nigeria and if we don’t want to be in Nigeria, let’s sit down and agree. If you want to be in Nigeria , you can’t suffocate me and take advantage and say we must stay together. So, the North is looking at all options. We can restructure. We can become confederation. We can devolve power. We can have state police and all that we want. But I can tell you that the thinking of the North now is that we should actually have a referendum If we want Nigeria or not. If we want a Nigeria, then, we must sit down and see how Nigeria will work. So, if we need the country, let’s sit down and decide that we need the country first. Then we can now sit down and decide on how our country can work for all of us. If we decide that we don’t want the country as it is, then, I mean, countries have gone apart. Czechoslovakia and quite a number of other countries, including the Sudan, have gone apart. We don’t want to go to war.
Well, the North is not going to be intimidated again to accept anything. We have to sit down and resolve whether we want this federation or this country as it is.