Former member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, in this interview with JULIET OYOYO, spoke on major topical issues. Excerpts:
Sir, there is a recent statement by Alhaji Buba Galadima that the reason the North is agitating for a president from the region is due to the ploy by President Muhammadu Buhari to seek a third term in office. I recall that you also stated that it is not yet time for the North to relinquish power to the South. What is your reaction to this?
I am sure you got me wrong in what I said or what was supposed to have been said by me. I never said it was time for the North to relinquish power or that it was not time for the North to relinquish power. I have only said that I am against zoning or rotation and that has been my stand without change, from the second republic. From 1981 till now, the idea has remained the same and that is what I have promoted.
So, whoever says that is my stand got me wrong. I have no business with zoning or rotation. I do not believe in it and, I also do not believe that it should be used as the basis to change the governing pattern in this country because, frankly speaking, wherever it was practiced, it failed. And, anywhere it is being considered, it is clearly a consideration that it has failed and it is not a democratic consideration.
So, as far as I am concerned, those who are saying they are planning for third term or fourth order should be able to answer the question but not me. It is none of my business as I am not a member of the PDP which made rotational or zoning, a mantra. And, I am not a member of APC, which in my knowledge has never considered zoning or rotation as a principle, in sharing office or in sharing power.
What will be your reaction and that of other Northern leaders if President Buhari should decide to seek for a third term in office?
Well, we will cross that bridge when we arrive at it. At the moment, I have not heard from anybody credible and, at this moment, I do not believe that Buba is a credible person, frankly speaking. Buba is my friend and same is Buhari and I do not believe that he has the political gravitas to make that kind of statement on behalf of Buhari or on behalf of his former party which is currently Buhari’s party, the APC. And, I do not think that the statement he is making is called for.
If you are to insist that Buhari has a mandate from now till 2023 and anybody concerned, whether he is APC or PDP who has won election who is now exercising an electoral mandate should be able to, to the extent of wanting discharge that mandate from now and until 2023. The idea that we should now start wasting our time and our resources on who will be president in 2023 is most unhealthy, mischievous and irresponsible.
If I am not wrong, I heard you recently saying that Bola Tinubu will be a good candidate for the office of president. How true is that statement?
Yes, I don’t know if the context in which I made a similar statement. I am aware that there are some people from the West who are interested in being the leaders of this country come 2023. As far as I am concerned, I am not a member of the party so to the extent that anybody is interested, I don’t think he should be discouraged. So, please let us give an opportunity to those who are now in power, to discharge their mandate and see how they govern and, I said, that as far as I am concerned, of all the people coming from the South West, I prefer to have Tinubu any day, than have anybody in the South West who wants to be president.
Besides, the zoning formula or rotation policy as I understand it, when you zone, you don’t zone to a single zone but out of the region. So, now that a Northerner is in power, there is no emergency. When he is out of power, it will be a Southerner and it can be any Southerner.
So, Tinubu can be in the race so also anybody from the South West, South East and South South has the right to be in the race but, in the case of Tinubu, it is not binding on the party because, they have never said there must be zoning rotation policy. If it is a fact of understanding, among them who are in that party and they say somebody is fit, for example, Tinubu, is fit to be the person, why not?
I have no problem with Tinubu being the president. At least we have a better person that Nigerians can see. If you have somebody better than Tinubu, go ahead and show me and the rest of us.
A lot of people feel that the South East has been marginalized and as such think that there is the need to reintegrate them back into the system. Would you not advise that power should be allowed to shift to the South East?
Well, it is up to Nigerians to make such a decision but, what I know and, as far as I am concerned, there was a time the South West people also marginalized themselves and insisted very stubbornly, in being perpetual party at opposition. Now, the South East people took the decision upon themselves to be against everybody and be only for themselves. Besides, people who are asking to be entrusted with power, they must give us concrete examples of what they will do with power. Mark you, I am a Northerner and a very proud Northerner. I apologize to no one for being a Northerner. But let me tell you, if Northerners have the kind of mindset that the Igbos have, there will never be this Nigeria because over night, those we live with, those who lived with our leaders, civilians, political and military, were massacred overnight by the Igbos.
So, if we adopt that attitude, I assure you, it will be very difficult for any Northerner to support, vote for or endorse an Igbo candidate. And, before we give power to them, they must demonstrate to us that they are trustworthy. We are not going to give power to people who have a history of killing other people’s leaders.
……But sir, that happened a long time ago?
My friend, if you forget your history, some of us do not forget our history. If you lost your father or an uncle in that 1966 tribal coup, some of us have not forgotten. We lost relations and then, demanding to be given power as a right as what some so called Nigerian democrats do. In a democracy all over, people ask and cajole others to be given power and by giving assurances. Saying it our turn is not a democratic argument. So, if they want to go and fight the North or the rest of the country because they are not been treated, as they say; fairly, so be it. If you kill somebody without subjecting him to due process, is that fairness? And, look at their language?
As a leader and stakeholder in the project Nigeria, how do you think everybody can come together to a roundtable so that the unity of the country can be discussed?
Excuse me! Bringing everybody together does not entail that we must give power to every Tom, Dick and Harry. Anyway, when they got power, how did they behave? I still vividly remember during the 1966-1970 crises when we had them as Secretaries to the Government and army chiefs and what have you, I know what they did. I know what Francis Nwokedi did. He was a Secretary to the government then. I also know what Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi did. Ironsi was involved in that coup. And, later, not long ago under Goodluck Jonathan , we had a similar problem when Anyim Pius Anyim was SGF and Azubuike Ihejerika was Chief of Army Staff, we know how they treated other Nigerians. In fact, the Defence Minister then, who used to be Secretary to the Government himself, openly said that, “they are practicing tribalism in the Nigerian Armed Forces”. Go and check it out.
So, when we see somebody from the South South and some few tribes who are not Igbos and make him president, what is wrong with that? Or, is it only when we appoint an Igbo man as the president that is when “we are being fair” or we are being reasonable and what have you? We are talking about power. It has nothing to do with being reasonable and, if by not giving an Igbo man the president, we are not fair or do not want Nigeria to be harmonious, so be it.
The Nigerian president recently travelled to Saudi Arabia, possibly to woo investors to the country. Don’t you think these trips overseas are getting too much?
First, I do not support these types of travelling and that is by the way. The trip he made to Saudi Arabia is not just to Saudi Arabia but it was an investment forum where investors from all over the world were invited and they were more than 3,000. So, if he went to woo investors, so be it. I do not think there is anything wrong in that but, in the whole, I do not believe that the president should be travelling as much as he is doing, given his state of health and also, given that the government itself is settled. I do not think that he has appointed as much as 30% of the total of the appointments he is supposed to be making as president. So, I think there is a lot of work to be done here this time that we are approaching a recession. If care is not taken we will find ourselves in a recession. So, we need every hand on deck at home.
What is your opinion on the closure of the borders as it has affected a lot of businesses?
I have not done much about it as I have been traveling myself but I believe that some of our neighbours have not been behaving well themselves, especially Benin Republic. But, when you look at the issues, you will see that Nigeria will not be able to solve the problem by itself. We have to cooperate with our neighbours particularly those that are very close to us; Benin Republic, Niger, Chad, Cameroun and to a certain extent, across the sea and Central Africa Republic.
To me, we should deal with the matter in a bilateral format and ask each of the individual country on parameters but most importantly, we do a double-checking on things that are been brought into the country or that must not. They must make sure that things are been done correctly in accordance with international laws and, if we are to receive some of these people, we must also make sure that they are properly checked. I believe Nigeria can do that but, I do not trust the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
So, whatever we do, unless we restructure the Customs Service and sack many bad eggs out of the system as much as possible, I do not see how we can be able to mobilize the resources which are due to our country through the Customs Service.
Do you subscribe to the partial closure of the border instead of this total closure?
I do not know the difference. Whatever we decide, we must insist that the countries on the other side of the border must do their own homework and ensure that what is due to them is taken while also, what is due to Nigeria gets to Nigeria. At a stage, they ought to have a joint account and as these people come into the country, they also must subject themselves to proper Customs duties and Customs assessment and if we do that, I am sure that the problems will likely to be less. But, as we are now, doing it arbitrarily is against international law and I do not want us to be on the wrong side of the international law because no country in the world is above the international law.
These types of steps taken by countries have landed so many countries in troubles. The examples are many. A mere motion at the Security Council (UN) would invite the whole world to launch a war on us. Therefore, we have to be very careful and, if we want to be on the right, we must make sure that the right must not transgress against international law. This is very important!
Lastly, sir, the spate of insecurity and kidnapping across the country has taken a completely new dimension. What advice would you give to the government, sir?
First, the government must be effective. The primary responsibility of government, any government, is to maintain law and order. If a government cannot maintain law and order, there is no amount of noise making that can save the country. Secondly, there are people in the Armed Forces, the Police and the other security agencies who are in positions which they do not deserve. There are persons in high positions without the right knowledge and no competence of what they are there for especially in the Armed Forces who are there not because they believe in the service or serving the country in that capacity but are there to make money and there are many of them who have overstayed their welcome. For example, I cannot see any justification why we must maintain Tukur Yusuf Buratai and other generals who are fighting or who claim to be fighting the war when in fact, their interest is to prolong the war as much as possible. Those who have served their time or those who have done one or two operations should please go, because, out of the almost 200 million Nigerians, they are not the only ones who can serve in that position. And many other Generals have been prematurely retired or retired at the time when they were most effective and useful to the country. Unless we reform the Armed Forces, with the serving governor being the driving mantra of the Armed Forces, I cannot see how this issue is going to be resolved.
The bandits that we have in the North West are nothing but common criminals who are in cahoots with the Generals and some big men in their respective areas and, it is the same thing with the bunkering in the Niger Delta; it is being done by big men and Generals.
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