In this interview with JOHN ALECHENU, Russian-trained medical practitioner turned politician, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, who is one of the three delegates representing Kano State at the national conference, speaks on the expectations from the summit
What agenda would you say the North will be putting forward during the National Conference?
To the extent that I can now be regarded as a delegate to the confab, representing one out of the 19 northern states, I will tell you as far as I know. There has not been an articulated northern agenda because the political leaders of the North now- particularly the governors, have refused to do their home work. And in fact, but for the pressure of the event, most of them were of the view that somehow, what they think in their states is supposed to be the agenda of the North.
But several groups including one which you preside over, have given hints of possible areas which are likely to be of interest to the North … (cuts in)
I cannot sit down and assume that I know what their imput will be unless I consult with them. I am not one of those who believe I can speak for people without consultation. Since I grudgingly agreed to serve, representing Kano, I have been making consultation with the people of Kano and other people, not necessarily people who oppose or support what I stand for. I have been in consultation with some of the people across the length and breadth of the country and I have not done even 15 per cent of the consultations yet.
The consultation I believe in is an ongoing process in which people have a say, in which interest groups, stakeholders and what have you across the divide of the country -the business class, the civil savants and so on- will be consulted. It is a process. Given the spirit of give and take, it is possible to come up with something that will be acceptable to the majority of Nigerians but I want to say that the agitation for a national conference started from the South-West. Through the last couple of years, there have been noticeable mitigation of positions, people have taken positions and vice-versa and if at the end of the day, out of the desire to achieve maximum advantage through agitation, something is coming through, that not everybody can get everything, and that you cannot build a country through blackmail and continuous agitation or nor can you win a people to your side of the argument by abusing them and calling them names and damning them virtually as a whole people.
These agitations are now coming down; somewhat hopefully, there will be a room for civil dialogue which hasn’t been present in the Lagos Press ever since the agitation started in the 1990s. I believe that they now realise that much as you have the mouth to insult others, they can also abuse you with equal magnitude and it hurts when you are insulted.
I hope all these will be put aside and statesmanship will thrive, people who genuinely love the country will thrive and common sense would also be possible inside the assignment in question. As long as people believe in staying at home, kicking agitations which are baseless and based on false historical facts like that of Prof. Ben Nwabueze and his fellow men in Lagos, there will be no successful national conference and there will be no national consensus. Without a national consensus, there will be no country. I have not, in my view, reconciled myself with the fact that Nigeria has to break up but I have not completely ruled out the possibility that the country may break up. And when it does break up, it is not going to be a peaceful one. So God, forbid.
I hope people will be responsible enough to realize that this is not the time to grandstand; this is not the time for irresponsible brinkmanship. We have to sit down and discuss issues as they are and I also believe in my own experience that economics can never be separated from politics.
Can you explain what you mean by this?
My own understanding of economics in politics is not by blackmailing people. We have a revenue allocation formula which is now from 2002 to date. It is now about 12 years old.
The revenue allocation formula gives an enormous amount of money to oil producing areas and the level of development in these areas apart from Rivers, is very negligible. Most of the money has been stolen.
We have a whole ministry for the Niger Delta, this in itself, is a usurper. The Ministry of the Niger Delta is neither here nor there. What has the ministry done? Nothing! In fact, it has made the situation even worse. The (former) minister has added no value to anything that is happening in the Niger Delta. We also have money being set aside every year to pay thugs and we call that amnesty. The NDDC, the Ministry of the Niger Delta and the Amnesty Programme are all concentrated in the Niger Delta and the amount of money, which goes into these useless initiatives was not only started by the late President Umaru Yar’adua, they have not done anything, they have not mitigated the problems of this country. They have not mitigated the problems in the Niger Delta itself; they have not done anything about corruption; they have not done anything about the imbalance in development not to talk of other areas where poverty is the order of the day and where something has got to be done.
There are insinuations that the North has not done enough to curb the Boko Haram insurgency and that the issue is likely to come up at the conference. Are you aware?
A number of them don’t know whether there is anything to be said about sociology or history of Boko Haram. These boys have lost hope in life and are prepared to do anything; the more brazen, the more irresponsible, the more terroristic, the better. I hope when this thing is discussed, it is going to be discussed in a new spirit of cooperation.
What is your reaction to claims that President Goodluck Jonathan is trying to use the conference to achieve a personal goal?
If Mr. President imagines that he can use this kind of divisive parleys and committees to achieve a political goal, I assure him and anybody who cares that he is going to fail. The only thing that will work is the truth and that truth has to be said. It is either we are in a country or we are not in a country; and if we are in a country, there are rights and responsibilities. You cannot take one and ignore the other and that has to be whether you are from the North, the West or from the South-South or whatever we call ourselves. There has to be discussions about the Nigerian citizenship, about the Nigerian nationhood and the rights and responsibilities that come with it.
Will you respect the President’s wishes on the issue of no-go areas?
In the first place, the statement, either from him or some other people, whether military or civilians, who talked about it in the past, are talking nonsense. Whether you are a leader, civilian or military, you must persuade people that it is not in their interest to divide themselves rather than say this is a no-go area or nobody can discuss this or that on the surface while at the same time go and adopt positions which will make the survival of the country impossible. I regard the entire talk about no-go areas as superfluous and utterly meaningless. Some people are putting words into his mouth and he is uttering them just like that.
Frankly, his (Jonathan) own Presidency has done more harm to the sense of belonging and the sense of unity in Nigeria than any other President in the history of this country. Are you telling me that has to be ignored? It is not going to be ignored. One thing we want to do is ensure that even in discussing the most sensitive issues, there must be a sense of responsibility and there is realism. Once you do that, the no-go areas will take care of themselves. People will know why they are better off together. But to say you cannot discuss this or that is not tenable.
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