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‘Nigeria’s problem is beyond restructuring’

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Abubakar Bili Tafawa Balewa

Abubakar Bili Tafawa Balewa, one of the grandsons of the late Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, served as Special Adviser on Youth Development in Dr. Adamu Muazu’s administration from 1999 to 2003. He told RAUF OYEWOLE in Bauchi that restructuring has never succeeded because the South wants to go it alone.

What do you make of the growing calls for restructuring?
I THINK why the restructuring never succeeded is because my brothers in the South never carried other regions along; there is nothing bad in that. The problem is about the system and we have a problem with the people too. I think it would be much better if we have a collective outlook and that is to say that every part of Nigeria is being taken care of.

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Nobody is happy with what’s going on, everybody feels shortchanged somehow, somewhere. So, the agitation, and we have had so many confabs where people come around and waste money. There’s even agitation and the National Assembly is trying to do another constitutional review. All these will come to nothing so far we don’t come to confab with free minds to build one nation because we seem to always want to eat our cake and have it.

Some people want to be in Arewa Kingdom and still remain Nigerians, Odudua Kingdom and Nigerian and Ohanaeze Kingdom and at the same time be a Nigerian. If you really want to have a country, we must all be united in this nation. I have been to many countries in Africa; I have been to 20 countries. In Niger here, that’s next to our door, there is a rule of law to which everybody surrenders to. Here, things are done differently. No matter how many times you do a constitutional review or the restructuring, as so long the operators are not sincere, nothing will come out of it.

What’s wrong with Nigeria now? As of 1966, we had four regions during the first coup, eventually, it became 12 states. States are now over 30 and still, people are agitating and I’m sure by tomorrow, if you create more states, they still ask for more. We are breaking into smaller units and to me, as far as I’m concerned, we are breaking away instead of coming together. There are God-given potentials and talents. Go to the West; see the industries and tenacity of the people; go to the East, come to the North. But we don’t see it that way; we only see things from the tribal divide.

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Nigerians don’t have national pride, loyalty. How many of us can die for Nigeria, when there is almost nothing the country has done for them at the moment? Unemployment, to get work in Nigeria now, you must know somebody; whether a senator or a governor, if not just forget it. I can understand the sentiment that makes people demand to restructure, but it is not the restructuring that matters; it is the system.

You said Nigeria’s problem is beyond restructuring, but holistic system reconfiguration. Kindly expatiate?
It starts from your unit, households before going to the area, and then local council; you can’t put a round peg in a square hole and expect it to fit. We must look inward. There was a country before, according to Chinua Achebe in his last novel. Whether you like it or not, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Nigeria was working. What happened now? Let’s look at what has gone wrong – and I believe is the operators. Recently, we have not had operators who are willing and ready to die for Nigeria. It is when you are ready and willing to die that things go properly.

Grumblings and calls for unbundling the country’s unity have increased in some sections, do you believe in that?
I think we have all gotten it wrong; if Nigeria is to break up God forbid, do you think it is only three or four? Forget it, no way. It will break into pieces –which we don’t pray for. I think what we don’t really understand is that our real strength is that of our diversity. With 200million people? Over 400 tribes–we have so many diverse human and natural resources.

For me, no matter how good your car is, you cannot win a race if you don’t have a good driver. Always, our problem is who leads us; since 1960, we have been cowed into that. We have to begin to look at the capacity of a person before we elect him as a leader; not just only the President, the councilors are included. Otherwise, they will keep telling us that it is a Yoruba man, Igboman, or Hausa man who is cheating us.

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In the last 20 years, there was so much money in this country; we were so fortunate that Nigeria became richer again in 1999, but look at how they have squandered the money. The structures that were put down then are crumbling now and we are just dancing in one place. Debt is now coming back to when the West waived them. Now, the COVID-19 is here, it is making things difficult everywhere; the even UK, US which has strong and good leaders. We need to have those things; strong and good leadership, even in crisis you get out of it, and in good times you still do more, but we don’t just seem to be good managers in Nigeria.

They have squandered our opportunities from 1960 to date, but I pray that we don’t squander the next opportunity that might come our way. And to be honest, I’m so sorry; people like us don’t have another country except for Nigeria. I feel we should do everything possible to make this country a better place for us.

Would you subscribe to another talk shop like confab?
How many confabs do we need? Mind you, in the UK, they don’t have a constitution and it is a stable country. We have a constitution and we never put it into the real rigorous trial and yet we are calling for a new one, yes it has flaw. The number one problem in this country is corruption. On that table (of corruption) there is no Yoruba man, no Igbo man, no Hausa man, they eat and clean their mouths. If they want to play us, our elected officials blame their failures on the tribal divide. In Nigeria, to get something changed you must be willing to die or else nothing will change.

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Where would you say solutions to Nigeria’s security challenges lie?
It really baffles. The true answer to this is injustice; that’s what breed insecurity. There is no justice in the land; everywhere I go, the governor is so powerful as if he’s the ‘Alfa and Omega.’ He’s the richest man of that state; he takes almost all the traditional titles of that state. His family corners almost everything because he feels it is his turn. How many unemployed graduates do we have? I believe that more than half of the population of Nigeria is unemployed. What do you expect?

Look at the amount of wealth we have in this country, yet we can’t see it. Go to our schools, it baffles me, especially in the North. In the 80s, people don’t know what armed robbery is. What is it today? It is not only armed robbery, but also insurgents; Boko Haram has been here for over 10 years. People are playing with it, now it is much more than Boko Haram. We also have herders/farmers conflicts; virtually all the states in the North are not safe and across the country and that is just to show you that it is anger, invented anger inflicted on the system, and probably the system has not done anything to give succour to these people. That’s why they took up arms. Our leaders should think inwards, they need to do something surgical; the confabs we had had are just cosmetics. Let’s do something surgical like the way of China and other developed countries.

But the presidency maintains that killer herders infiltrate through our borders, do you believe in this rhetoric?
Why were they not there before? Now that they’re here now, they must have been here base on the invitation of some Nigerians. Though, I don’t want to believe so because, up to this moment, until recently when around Sokoto–Zamfara–Kebbi axis, the Military said they have apprehended a few foreign nationals, but how many are they? Are they the same people that are causing trouble in Plateau, Nassarawa, and Kaduna-Abuja highways? There is real sentiment among Nigerians and the only thing that can take this away is justice, fairness, and good leadership.

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Does that have something to do with service chiefs or the nation’s security architecture?
I’m not a security expert, thanks to God that the President is a retired military general. He should know better; he fought a war and he should know better how to execute a war. Like I said, we have to shift from that paradigm, he inherited the war, the war has been there during the time of President Goodluck Jonathan even though with the promise that he would end the war. You can imagine the war is still going on, even though it is being degraded, but that goes to show you that there are so many hands in it.

It is not the amount of armoury that you put in place that quenches insurgency or crime; it is the will of the people. Nigerians from the West, North, East, and South should rise up and say enough of this madness; insurgency, crisis, and tribal killings, I believe that will be a starting point. If I am right, I think about four or five service chiefs during this war have been arrested with money. That tells you that it is a franchise or an enterprise where people make money and you never can tell how many people are making money out of it. I’m sorry for Nigeria, we just have to pray that God gives us leaders who are ready and willing to change things.

You were involved in the national political consensus movement before the 2019 election. What are you doing differently to avert another fiasco?
I think I am more or less a local man now because I have realised that you have to start with your society, yes I have become engrossed in my local politics. I want to see the best person to emerge as a governor in my state. Not just only the governor, I want to see the best material to be put in place in 2023. That’s my major preoccupation now and I believe that, if we could do it before, we can do it again. My state has the potential and capacity to give Nigeria another Tafawa Balewa because we have a lot of them; people who are honest, good administrators, and who carry everyone along.

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In short, my main preoccupation now is how I can better my backyard, my state, and then of course how to encourage our friends across Nigeria to pitch for a modern people to solve our modern problems. You can’t expect someone who had ruled Nigeria in the 60s, 70s, and 80s to really comprehend what is going on today. In the 60s, there was no difference between Christians and Muslims, Northerners, and Southerners. But today, that divide is there now. Division even from the language of people from the same state, that’s even a barrier now; these are not supposed to be happening. The best and only solution starts with the individual and their homes. By the time that we have 36 governors who are fit to be there and a president who knows what he’s doing, it will be the beginning of the process. And the other arm of government, because most of the time, we put businessmen into the legislature. Instead of them being there and discuss our issues, they allow it to come out and we discuss them on the streets. Looking inwards and start doing the right thing should be our way out.

What ideals of your grandfather, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa do you recall?
He is my grandfather; I was born not long after he died, but thank God I have read virtually every literature about him that you can find. To some extent, I can say I pity him because if 60 years after independence, our leaders can subject themselves to the same thing they were subjected to during their own time, I pity him. When there was no so much integration between the Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo. Most of us were in our own enclaves, the only common area that we met beside trade was in Lagos where the Capital was and now we have had Federal schools where people from South, West, North, and East meet. We have had federal departments where different people from the different regions go to particular states and work. The integration is much more and yet the problem is still there. It was the same railways they left behind that are still there. In the same industries, the same legacies, there is only a little or no improvement.

I respect the first generation leaders a lot. Going forward, what’s happening, people are becoming local champions; they just want their people only to praise them. If you have an appointment, you only look at your people. To me, that makes me respect him (Tafawa Balewa). I commend him for being a strong man to have laid his life for Nigeria and for this generation to live. It is a burden-bearing his name because people expect too much from you. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t like to be like anybody but it is just unfortunate.

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There are things you can’t do because you are just Tafawa Balewa. People see you as if you’re born with a silver spoon, no! It is not like that, especially down here; you have to earn it because he earned it and you too as a person have to earn it. And of course, there are good things attached to it. I have lived in the East and West and other parts of the country; I have seen how people accord me with respect for the name. I pray for more Tafawa Balewas, Saudanas, Azikwes, Awolowos in Nigeria; we need them. They are the ones that will lead the people to their promised land.

There are fears the weight of national debt could trap Nigeria in a worse form of colonisation?
America is the greatest indebted nation in the World and they’re the biggest economy and nobody is saying anything about borrowing. But here in Nigeria, they borrow and leave it for the next generation and that’s our problem. People borrow, steal, and keep it for their children and other people’s children would now have to pay the debts they incurred. That’s the price we have to pay. Majority of these people that have been put in place are businessmen; they are going into office not because they want to make things better, but to make money.

Now, a senator’s emoluments run to about an N1billion or more and down the ladder to state assemblies. There’s nothing bad in borrowing, but you do so when you absolutely need it. There are ways to save money, whether you downsize your workforce, levies, and make more money. Nigerians must wake up and make our leaders accountable. I pray it will not get back to the pre-Obasanjo time when the IMF and the World Bank gave up the Nigerian debt.

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After 60 years, do you think Nigeria’s independence is worth celebrating?
I don’t think it is worthy of celebration rather reflection. Most of the players of 1960 are mostly gone; very few are alive. We have players of the second generation now, they are the ones in charge; so we need a sober reflection. We seem to ignore that anyone who seems not to know where he came from, where he is and where he wants to go is doomed. Let’s reflect on where we came from; we came from a Nigeria where we had regions, practicing a parliamentary system of government, which took us to a certain level. It was not the system that was wrong then but; we truncated it and allowed the military to come in and they had a long span in Nigeria. Now, thank God we have 20 years of democracy, we need to reflect on those things that have happened.

We have had these trials, let’s ask ourselves where are we going to? How do we want to go, we can’t just be blindly going. As it is now, we are going blindly. Let’s as a nation ask ourselves, where are we going? We need to plan, strategise, and be focused. All the prosperous countries are not going blindly; it is an organised, concerted approach that takes them to where they are. If you don’t do that, forget it. We must come together and save Nigeria. I pray that God gives us a leader that unites us.

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