EMULATE ABACHA ON FUEL SUBSIDY
Professor Jibril Aminu, has been a two-term Senator; a two-time petroleum minister and education minister; a former executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) and a former Nigerian ambassador.
In a chat with select journalists in Abuja, he expressed dismay at the handling of security so far in the country, support for fuel subsidy, why every of Jonathan's proposal is being rejected by the people, why post-UME should not continue, the politics within his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the happenings in his home state of Adamawa. Here are excerpts:
Recently, the country has been witnessing security challenges. What, in your view, can we do to address these challenges?
Let me start by saying that I am now at the stage where every public officer would like to be and I am grateful for it. I thank God and I thank my fellow countrymen. When I speak now, I do so because I feel it is necessary for me to so speak. I have no issue to pick with anybody. When I speak, I do so like Dimka said because I was involved and I have some kind of advantage because of the relevant information that I have. I also try to be as sincere as I can and declare those things that will help the country. Ok?
Now, to answer your question properly, I will say that countries do have security problems. Look at some of the places that you feel are the most secured, look at what happened in Britain, Norway and places like France. These things do happen. If there are security challenges, then there will be security apparatus. In other words, security apparatus exists because it is envisaged that there would be security challenges. What becomes most disturbing is if the security challenges become too many and they come to take over the worry and the concerns of the country and also when it does not look like we are on top of it. Even if you are fighting a war, you have hope that one day you will win and you know where you are going.
But what is disturbing now in this country is that the security situation is very uncertain in my view and you do not know what will happen next. And I for one have not seen the strategy put in place for containing the security challenges. You see a lot of wild fire approach to it, a lot of security personnel on the road and everywhere and you see what looks like emergency reaction to a developing situation. To me, that is not containing the issue.
That is what is worrying me. Where are we going? What is going to happen next? Whenever we get a small matter, we forget everything else and we concentrate on that one like this issue of Boko Haram. We have got a lot of security challenges and we know the problem of insecurity on the roads. Anybody who has travelled knows the problem of kidnapping, robbery and these are all major security problems. And I once said it recently and it was published in the papers that even during the civil war, there was more security than we have now. I moved round the country.
If you know what is happening in Adamawa in terms of security, you have people stopping you on the road. A small place that we all used to walk between Jimeta and Yola town by night on foot. There is a chance that now you could be stopped and attacked. Every place you mention in that small place, they will tell you that they can still stop you there. Not by particularly strong armed bandits like the ones who invaded a town like Gombi, attacked two banks killed some soldiers and also one of them was supposed to be somebody who did his Youth Service in the town. He was recognised by the people. NYSC was a salutary scheme intended to develop a system of service, now used to destroy the town he knew very well, which he invaded to kill the people.
These things are all over the country and the only thing I can see is that the law enforcement agencies are just trying to catch up with them. It does not look to me that they have a strategy for dealing with the situation. I am not blaming the security agencies or government or whatever but in the final analysis, the responsibility is their own.
The responsibility is with each one of us, all of us. But if things remain as they are, what will Nigeria be like in the next five years? Will you feel comfortable in your house like you are sitting now? Is that the kind of world we want to leave for our children? Things were not like this before. I assure you, when I was a young man, even before I had a car and even when I had a car, the best time to travel was at night. I travelled all over this country. I travelled from Kaduna to Lagos at night. From Yola to Jos, nothing would disturb you. You might be lucky to meet a Hyena on the road, that was all. Who will do that now?
Then, of course, the situation of people they call Boko Haram; I think everybody is aggrieved now.
There was a very serious mistake in handling them in the first time. This business of killing by security agents, I was reading a paper yesterday, a very senior military officer said they handed over the leader of the Boko Haram, Yusuf, healthy to the Police. Shortly after, he was dead. I know that was a mistake, they have almost acknowledged their mistake. Even the former, president Obasanjo visited their family, even though the results were not very pleasing. It is an acknowledgement that this thing could have been handled differently. And I hope we have learnt a lesson from there. It was the same thing with the Niger Delta until Umaru Yar'Adua came. We have to learn to talk with people because the citizens are not just trash. They are not just rubbish, they are human beings. They have their views, they have their brains.
I think the law enforcement agencies must learn to deal respectfully with our citizens. When you see them on the road, they are always frightening people. Our people are not disorderly; why should they be frightening, threatening them with the guns? What for? These people are paid to defend the people. If you go round the country, you will see them, the British Police are amongst the firmest in the world but they hardly ever bring out a gun and it was not until very recently in the last couple of decades, they were not even armed.
So with due respect to whatever is being done now, there must be a new culture of respect for the citizens. You remember the last but one Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ehindero, he coined slogan of 'service with integrity'. Why should the law enforcement agents go out of their way to antagonise the people and provoke them? I am not saying that they are responsible for the crises but I am saying that if we are going to solve the problem, we must find a way to ensure that we do it very well. We have to educate them. It is wrong to see everybody and brand them as undisciplined, rogue, evil, etc. that must be handled with iron fist. We must begin by looking at that aspect.
Secondly, there is no alternative to getting the citizens to participate in maintaining security and law enforcement, but the citizens can only do it if they feel they are appreciated and that their roles are recognised. Citizens will take up law enforcement if they love their country. These are subjects I can talk on for two hours without stopping. Love for this country is just not there. People love their religion more than their country. I am from the North. People from the North are mad about the North but our leaders did not advise us to be as mad about our country. It is the same thing with the West and the East. Their leaders did not advise them to be mad about Nigeria too. The people from the West love the West, but they were not thought to love their country, Nigeria.
General Gowon remains one of the greatest leaders we have ever produced in this country because of the things he did while he was in office. He established the NYSC, Federal Character Commission, the Unity Schools. People complain about the federal character, but it is very important because everybody must be made to feel they belong wherever they go. These are some of the things we need for people to believe that they are protected in their country. And, of course, leadership by example. People should not see their leaders, squandering money and you expect them to respect such a leader, respect the system and love the country? No!! I wish the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will look at these things seriously and address them. Not just by talking but by looking at them properly.
We had a committee to look at Vision 20:2020, we had committees to look at this to look at that. We have to also look at how you can make Nigerians love their country more. It is difficult. No one says it will be easy but if we succeed in this, we can address most of the other challenges we have. When you want to change, you do not dwell so much on the past. The most serious error in my view was during the First Republic, where the leaders of those days were forced to divide the country. This division persists. Even today, the mentality of the people is still the First Republic mentality. Somebody from your area gets a job and which does not in any way help to change your fortune but you are happy. What for? It adds nothing. In some cases, your life is even worse off, yet you are happy. I have seen it; we have all witnessed it . That is ridiculous because somebody comes from your area and gets a job you are happy. Who says you will never have differences and that he will always agree with you. No.
Every one of you knows that you have a court in your area. Why? You think that court was built because your people will have disagreement with people from outside your area? No! It was conceived because they knew that disagreement will occur amongst you even to the point of murder or even a point of war. So, drop this obsession about this man has come from my place, therefore, he will protect me. I have always craved that we should give everybody an opportunity.
Do not allow anyone to feel locked out. But for you to say that this man has got to come from your area for you to feel comfortable, if we believed in it before, by now, we have seen that it is not important. But the only way to balance that is to say that if you are given a job, you must be fair to every Nigerian and you must demonstrate your love for the country by the way you behave while in the office. You must behave very well. I believe talking like this is not just the answer, the country must approach these issues practically.
We also need to get some people, articulate and work out ways of implementing them, because it appears to me that this is the root cause of our current predicament.
There is a structural problem. Everybody treat this country like a market. You go to the market, you have to get the best bargain. But tomorrow if the market is not there, you ask where is the next market?. So a market is like that. Nigeria is being treated just like a market. Whether you talk about the economy, civil service or politics everybody treat the country like a market. We must get our own. This thing has got to stop. We have been demoted as a country. In the case of Libya for example, when this unfortunate thing was happening to Maummar Ghadafi and the Libyan people revolted and took over the leadership of their country.
There were allegations that they were killing black Africans. Then came the question of will you recognize this interim government or not and Nigeria hurriedly acted to recognize that regime. I think that was not right. We have always made Africa the center piece of our foreign policy. We should not have allowed other people to poke on this. We must defend Africans wherever they are and I think we lost out on that one and some other countries gained some progress very cheaply by saying that Ã«no we are not going to recognize themÃ. This type of thing must not be allowed to happen with a country like Nigeria. We must not start what we cannot carry through.
You were once a key player in the oil and gas sector, what do you think about removal of fuel subsidy?
The British say 'it is not what you do but how you do it. It is not what you say but how you say it'. I am convinced that with the way things are going now in this country, we cannot continue with this oil subsidy indefinitely. It is impossible considering the amount we are spending. Look at the figures. We all must have done some science while in school. How much is it costing the country?. When I was the petroleum minister long time ago, it used to cost about N100 million to convey the subsidy, not even the subsidy itself but to deliver it. When you look at it, it is not something that we can sustain and I believe that the NNPC has a responsibility to bring the figures out now and let Nigerians know what we are losing by way of this subsidy. Show our people what is happening.
I remember that at the time of former president Obasanjo, they had thought that N150 billion would do, N150 billion is a lot of money to use as subsidy. They thought that it would do and that is; Federal Government would pay half, and state government would pay half. Now, I hear people dangling figures like N1 trillion per annum. This is money which I know is said to be going to certain Nigerians I believe under the down stream sector; this money could have been used to develop the educational system, the roads, agriculture, etc. now is going to one sector only.
If this energy was used 100 per cent for the benefit of Nigerians, that would have been ok but we all know what happens that a lot of Nigerian neighbours rely on the Nigerian subsidy and a lot of very important people participate in smuggling and this is what they call arbitrage, which is where people get free money and develop their racket.
My own honest opinion is that we cannot continue with the implementation of subsidy but like I said, it is not what you do but how you do it. We must develop a policy to gradually remove the subsidy but most importantly, we have to raise the sensitivity and awareness of the people to this problem. The people also must see that we are living by what we preach. I am not going to mince words, honestly speaking subsidy is too much. Subsidy is just being used to convey these petroleum products to our neigbhouring countries.
Before I am misunderstood as man, who does not have sympathy for the common man, I believe that in the Abacha days, they found some answers to this problem by withdrawing the subsidy, taking the money therein saved but were using it on things; developmental activities which people could see. That was the difference that Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) made. They were making roads, building hospitals, buying drugs; things that states and local governments could have been doing were being done by the PTF. So, in my opinion, there are ways we can remove it. Another thing with PTF was that it was in a military era and there was no need to consult states but now, there is need to reach some agreement between the states, local and the Federal Government. If the idea is just to increase the pump price, then risk some kind of resistance from the people.'
One of the problems that the country is grappling with is the absence of development at the grassroot and efforts being made to make local government autonomous have failed. How do we address this?
You cannot solve this by law it has to be by practice. To be frank a lot of the states are not functioning; Adamawa is an example. And the local government are even worse. These governments were conceptualized in order to take development closer to the people. These are the motivating reasons why a lot of people demanding for their own state. The only thing that happens from our experiences when states and local governments are created is that you have succeeded in increasing the political over heads. They have the cars, the sirens e.t.c. nothing else.
This arrangement of Joint Account has made matters worse for the councils. How can you have joint account where only one party has access to it. I cannot see the defense anybody can put in favour of maintaining the Joint account. I once told the council chairmen and Councilors that whatever evil they do is covered for them by the Governors of their states. If you do not give them their money, how would you know that if you gave them the money, they were going to spend it properly. You will never solve the problems at the grass roots unless the council get their money.
Most of the things PTF were doing can be done even by the councils if they are empowered. It is because these other tiers are not functioning that the federal government had to do what they are supposed to do and they continue to say that the federal government is too strong. It is too strong because they are working more than the others. I do not believe that the federal government is trying to take over the powers of the states and local government. I do not believe in it at all because I have lived through all that. The states and local government are not just functioning.
So you have a solution. Let us get the structures right and thereafter you can start talking about whether the Councils are working or not. There is a state now where every Council chairman Ã«electedÃ though is personal assistant to the Governor including their councilors. They have become the political thug of the Governor. As long as you also have state Independent Electoral Commission, SIEC, you can never have good elections at the state level.
Sir, Mr. President in his wisdom, has proposed a single tenure for the president and governors as a way of ensuring that political office holders at those level do not abuse their powers?
I completely agree with the one tenure system. I completely agree with it because it is the most potent cause of political misbehavior in governors in particular. If a governor goes in, he spends all his time in trying to secure a second term. What they used to say of Nixon 'the governor is elected for the sole purpose of being re-elected;' he has no other job but fighting for re-election and once he secures the second term, he tries to ensure that he plants his stooge there. This will reduce the problem of somebody doing nothing while in office but fighting for a second term. I think we should not give only four years but if you give five or six years it will be better. Once it is entrenched in the Constitution, there is no way they can maneuver to change it. One term for President and Governors but not for Legislators. They will not steal once EFCC is there. I had stated this long ago.
What is your take on this issue of post UME that is creating so much problems?
Yes, I know that my colleagues in the University do this I do not support it at all. What becomes of JAMB? It is too expensive to keep an organization like JAMB like that. As we all know the Universities themselves conduct these JAMB exams. Be it in JAMB, NBTE and the rest it is the academic people who conduct these exams. They set the examinations, mark and grade them. So I canÃt see how they can lose their confidence in JAMB. If it is just the leakages, cheating etc, we can find a solution to these things.
This is what we do all the time, when we have a small problem, instead of finding a direct answer, we go round it and invent a bigger problem and that is a wrong way to do these things. But I know that in their â€ arguments, they said someone can score up to 70 percent in JAMB and yet cannot write his or her name, this bothers on cheating is it not? so let us face the problem of how to deal with cheating in the system. My own feeling is that we do not need to create other problems while trying to solve one.
Sir, now on Adamawa your home state and in view of your experience there where the Governor is said to have muzzled out everybody. What would you say is the position of the PDP in terms of regaining power in the state, secondly what is happening to your aspiration to clinch the PDP national chairmanship position?
You are asking everything at the same time. Ok let me start with the PDP. The PDP, is a party that has been fortunate to command support all over Nigeria. No other party has done that before in the history of Nigeria. You have the party being supported by people not on the ground of geography, ethnicity or people. The nearest we had gone was in the days of the NPN, but they did not quite reach there. But I do not think the PDP can sustain this for too long.
In a peaceful Nigeria, what is going on cannot continue. Open brazen mismanagement of political processes and unfortunately, they tend to get support from the Judiciary and that is terrible because we are putting the country in danger yet failing to look at what is happening around us; what is called the Arab spring. How long do you think that Nigerians will continue to tolerate these things when the political process is brazenly ignored for no good reason. What is happening around us is simple, Prof. Umaru Ardo was denied even the Adamawa gubernatorial form. He was an aspirant, he paid his fees and was eminently qualified as a member of the PDP, yet he was denied the form today in 21st century Nigeria.
PDP is my party, but the problem with it is that it is the pre-primary and primary stages that are handled in the most shoddy and undemocratic manner and sometimes very shamefully too and in this, you find that the INEC is not blameless, the national secretariat is culpable. It is a simple matter, we have the law so follow it. They kept us in the National Assembly amending the Electoral Act; correcting this and correcting that, we argued to make sure that we came out with the current law yet they cannot follow the laws. We cannot sustain the confidence and respect of the people if it does not respect the democratic process and what happens to the party will happen to the country. This is why I said we should look at what is happening in other parts of the world and know that people sometimes kick.
I do not think you should ask me anymore about what is happening in Adamawa after what I have said in the context of this. There was no primary there. What Governors are now experts in is in hiring hooligans and some distinguished members of the Press. If they hire these people, they think the problems will be solved, it is not so. You cannot just entrench yourself by using the peoplesÃ money to buy public relations in order to continue to rule them.
How do you do that?. This is not acceptable. As long as you have the SIEC in place you cannot have functional local government election and what they say is Ã«if PDP is doing this at the center, then why canÃt we also do it? If you want us to stop, then go and ask them to stop. How many seats do you think other parties will win in Edo outside of the ACN if Council elections are held there today? Are we really serious people as a country? With all the education and all the things we have canÃt we respect ourselves and respect our people. If you lose an election, it is not the end of the world.
What of the National Chairmanship race, Sir?
On the issue of the Chairmanship, you know that they used to appoint people into that position on the basis of what they call family matter. It was a kind of cult. So now they have decided to hold the election. Whether they are sincere, it remains to be seen. In the days of the NPN, they used to hold election to elect their Chairman. It was done, thirty years ago but we cannot do it today. No! this is bad for our democracy. it looks like it is going to be this time around. If we do not have internal democracy in the political parties, we cannot sustain our democracy. if there is no democracy, we cannot realy hope to maintain peace in this country.
Will you be running Sir?
For the Chairmanship position in your party, sir?
There is still time, plenty of time.
Sir, how come we are clamoring for change and yet we are not ready for the moves by government to bring about that change. Do you see this president succeeding when all his proposals are being rejected?
He can restructure his method. The reason nobody is listening is because they are cynical, they have no respect for government, for the leaders, they don't believe them, you only believe those you can trust. They don't trust the, because they have been betrayed so much in the past. It is not something you can change in one day. They better stop playing with words like transformation, how do you transform? Transform what? So you must have a method, a system, a track record and the people will believe.
People are very cynical, not only are they cynical they are also poor. When people are cynical and are poor anything can happen. But I'm sure some of the items on the President's agenda are good, I believe in this single term, I believe we cannot maintain this subsidy, I believe we have to do something about the security immediately, I believe we have to put development and unity in the forefront. But you only do these things when there is sincerity. If tomorrow I am going to ask you go and a beg somebody, I will have to know if Man A is friend and is in the mood to help me, if he is not in the mood to help me then there is no point going, I have to make him my friend first. The elites are absolutely dumb in this country, they think all they have to do is to issue an order and the people will follow, they will not! Increasingly they will refuse to follow. This is the problem we all faced.
The President is a very good man, he wants to do his job but is he really sending this message to people who are in the mood to listen? So we have to go back to what I was saying in the beginning, there is need for tremendous social engineering to fix things we cannot solve immediately. We have to make people learn to respect their leaders based on ther track record not on their promises. How do you think people in the West came to respect Awolowo or Sarduana in the North, is not by what they were sayingor how they were saying, is their records.