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NIGERIA'S DOWNFALL STARTED UNDER GOWON – ADAMU SONG

By NBF News
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The former National Chairman of Alliance for Democracy, Alhaji Adamu Song is one man that is not happy with the state of affairs in Nigeria. He believes that save for the failure of leadership in the country, she could have taken her pride of place among the comity of nations. In this interview, he bares his mind on a wide range of issues including the 50th anniversary of Nigeria's independence. Excerpts…

Nigeria is already 50 years old as an independent nation. What is your assessment?

This is not a difficult question to answer at all.  Although I am very old; but at least I have seen Nigeria in the 70's, and early 60's. I am of age. I know what is happening and I am also privileged to be alive today to see what is happening. But you can be sure that our colleagues who died in the early 70's, they wouldn't have believed that Nigeria would deteriorate and decay so much to its present position. So, your question has a one way answer. As a country, we are not there and we have not started the journey.

You mean after 50 years, we have not started the journey to greatness?

Yes. Fifty years after, any movement we are making, we are moving backwards. If we are moving forward, it is because we are increasing in population. Otherwise, we are moving backwards in terms of all the good things that make life sweet in the 60's and 70's. Anybody of my age should be nostalgic enough. Take, for instance, when I started work, we don't wear used clothes; the ones you call okrika, second hand clothes. If you do, you will be ridiculed by your friends.

That, to us then, was the highest height of poverty. It was unheard of. Then, everything you had or purchased, was the best; shoes, shirts, that is ready made ones from Europe, not the ones made from Aba or other parts of this country. You had good, quality shirts purchased from Supermarkets. Then all the multinational supermarkets, the UTC, Chellarams, Leventis, Copperfield and the rest were functioning. Anything you buy in these supermarkets was genuine. Even if you enter a Chemist to buy drugs, you are sure you are buying good ones, not the fake and adulterated ones that you find in most medicine stores today. Where are we today?

There are over 1001 Chemists out there selling fake drugs. Today, the departmental stores have all disappeared. Surprisingly, these departmental stores are still in Ghana. How did they sustain them? Sometimes ago I was in Ghana and I saw Buootes, Michael Spencer and others that have disappeared from Nigeria a very long time ago. They are still in Ghana. You can go and verify this claim. Where have we gone wrong?

So what happened?
When I was in primary school, by the way, throughout my primary school, I attended paid primary school. What do I mean by paid education? I was given pocket money by the Native Authority. Even though I was a-Day Student, I was given two pairs of uniform, a blanket, mosquito net, toilet soap and then key soap to wash the uniform. And every Saturday, you are given four pence as pocket money in addition to free textbooks and exercise books. They even provided us with ink and pencil.

Throughout my school days, there was nothing I bought to attend school. Everything was free and once the time keeper rings the bell for everybody to enter their classrooms, you don't see anybody outside. The only person you will see outside is the supervising teacher, walking from one classroom to the other to see what the classroom teachers are doing. He would move round the classes to see if the teachers are doing the right or wrong thing. In secondary schools of those days, we used to have foreign teachers, Indians, Pakistanis and the rest. It was beautiful.

When you are in secondary school of those days, you eat the type of food you can't even get to eat in your home.  Then before you finish school, prospective employers would come and advertise their job vacancies.  They are many that would come; Standard Bank, Barclays Bank, Nigeria Police, and the military would come to advertise their job vacancies. If you indicate interest in the military those days, you are seen as a never do well. I wanted to join the military those days, but I was discouraged by my principal. He told me that the military is for those who cannot make their 'O' Levels.

Then, we were the potential university candidates. Today, to join the military or the Police, you are asked to bring several hundreds of thousands. Now, unless you have strong military or Police connection, you will never join the military or Police. What do you find today? These organs are now being populated by people of dubious character.

Where did we get it wrong?
You see, the number one culprit is the General Yakubu Gowon's administration. It is from that administration that we started getting it wrong. It was at that point that we missed our planning strategy. Instead of standardizing and fortifying things, Gowon embarked on white elephant projects. Fundamentally, the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme was the beginning of mis-planning, educationally. I can remember, clearly, that we started the programme without the teachers.

Then, of course the fire brigade approach when they decided to create the UPE Teacher's Colleges where people will go and spend three years and become teachers. There were no classrooms; no infrastructure for the policy of the programme at all. The teachers were not even there. There was no adequate manpower to train them. Those being trained were not given adequate training. What then do you expect? Garbage in, garbage out. We then had UPE teachers who could not speak English.

That kind of confusion in the policy affected other sectors of the economy. Government didn't help matters. Instead of developing the manufacturing and productive sectors of the economy, we relied on the importation of almost everything, including saw dust. The opportunity would have been there for us to have the productive sector take off. Even the few factories that patriotic citizens like Awolowo, Sardauna and Tafawa Balewa succeeded in putting on ground, this policy succeeded in destroying them. Gowon was busy spending oil money because it was when we had the so called oil boom.

The oil boom prompted them to start the white elephant projects without planning. It was just like trying to get rid of the money. Then they actually began the spending spree. They started with the Morgan wages, Adebo wages and finished up with the Udoji salary. Gowon paid that of Udoji. Then Nigerians went haywire. There would have been nothing wrong if it was well planned. After all, there is nothing wrong in paying workers living wages. But it was ill planned. It was like dashing workers money. These were workers who were not prepared for such money.

Everybody went on spending spree. Status rose so much so that those who were having bicycles went for motor cycles. Those who had motor cycles now went for cars. As Nigerians would say, levels changed. The policy succeeded in raising fake rich Nigerians, elevating them to what they were not even close to. By the time they finished spending the arrears, it dawned on them that they had been raised to a fake status. Up till now, Nigeria is yet to recover from such a misplaced policy. They had to augment to maintain the new found status. Corruption set in. Then, the 1976 coup worsened the situation.

Then, you had a crop of decent civil servants. The Oyeguns, Allison Ayida, Ahmed Joda and others who were then referred to as super permanent secretaries. These were permanent secretaries with integrity. They sleep in service and wake up in service. All of a sudden, they were either dismissed with ignominy or retired with immediate effect. These were top civil servants who by the civil service rules had drivers, cars, houses, medical facilities at their disposals.

Suddenly, all these were terminated after serving honestly and with all their minds. So others behind them said such things that happened to their seniors would not happen to them. So, they began the process of amassing enough to take care of the rainy days. Lack of job, security worsened the already bad situation. The termination fever continued as military coups continued. These are soldiers in the barracks who do not know how the civil society looks like. They would take over government and start making announcements, terminating people from their jobs without any iota of respect and from an uninformed point of view. They would make very irrational and erratic pronouncements.

I thought our problems started from the 1980's when…

No. It started from the Gowon administration. But it was General Muhammadu Buhari that inflicted the worst injury on the nation economy. How can you change the currency of a nation in 10 days. In the whole universe, I have not heard where such a thing happened. At that time, even Kaduna , the capital of Northern Nigeria couldn't boast of 10 banks.

People brought out sacks of money and couldn't change them within 10 days. And at that time, the highest denomination we had then was N20. By the time you want to change N2 million, you will need a lot of bags. The queues in banks were very long. Meanwhile, our rural dwellers were not taken into account. Nigeria , then, was a cash society. Everything ended up in the barracks. For you to change your money quickly, you had to go through somebody in the barracks. Otherwise, you will loose the money. And many Nigerians lost their money. So, anybody who tells you that we are making progress is not telling you the truth.

How is the situation today?
The situation is that we are moving from bad to worse. In one country, one legislator's take home pay is about N300 million per annum. That is the legitimate one in a situation where a professor cannot boast of N5 million per annum. It is annoying. They collect the salaries of their drivers, cooks and other aides and end up paying them peanuts. Nobody checks them. This is what they are using to siphon the money. The worrisome question is: do they genuinely employ these people? Some of their aides are purportedly on Level 16 and so on.

How many of them employ such calibre of staff? And what is the leadership of the National Assembly doing? We must come to reality. This bogus remuneration being paid to the legislators needs to be reviewed in line with what is obtainable in other services in this country. There is no way we can continue to live in different countries within a country; legislators living in a country of their own, the workers are living in a country of their own and the peasants are living in a country of their own. We must come to reality. We must come to what is realistic and feasible.

We have a situation where a Councilor's legitimate earning is about N10 million per annum. Then when they are leaving, they are paid what they call severance allowance. What for? And we have a situation where workers who have put in their best in pensionable appointments find it very difficult to get their own pension and gratuity. They even die in the streets of this nation.

As we speak, some are in Abuja pleading with government to pay them their pensions. Yet, this is something legitimate. But you find a councilor who has served for only four years being paid what they call severance allowance to the tune of millions of naira. What a wicked country! These allowances are fixed by these legislators themselves. Government should be realistic because the day it would boomerang, there would be serious regrets.

Have we done well in terms of political advancement?

How?  When the basis of a free and fair election is in disarray, how can you have a credible election? Politically, we are not where we are supposed to be. That is why we are in this problem. If our political system is stable and good, we wouldn't have been churning out policies that are impracticable and unworkable. A legislator's legitimate earning, if you put them together is about N300 million. That is why after they become governors, they scramble to go to the Senate.

They even plan it while in office so that as they are leaving Government House, they are moving to the Senate. How would they not ensure that their salaries would guarantee a continuation of their lifestyles as governors? Take a look at the Senate and see the number of former governors that are there. Many of them couldn't have been there if we have free, fair and credible elections. If our political class is up and doing, how can such a thing happen in this country? Now, everybody is going into politics because that is the shortest road to wealth in Nigeria. We have abandoned farming. Before now, retired military officers used to engage in farming after retirement; but today, they are retiring into politics.

Where are the farmers? How can a country that depends solely on money from oil make it after squandering all that accrues to them from that only source on politicians? This is why we now have the 'do or die' politics. And so we now have a crop of politicians who will go there and fix salaries that would be to their comfort without caring about those who elected them. Otherwise, how can a sane person, whether a member of the House of Representatives or a Senator, sit down there and legislate that his salary should be about N300 million per annum in this country when 40 or 50 percent of Nigerians cannot afford one decent meal in a day?

When 70 percent of university graduates do not have jobs after graduation? When because of inadequate resources, we cannot recruit enough policemen? Yet, one man is receiving N300 million which is enough to pay 10 police officers from when they are recruited to when they retire, including their benefits.

What then is the solution to all these problems?
The solution is for us to be realistic. And the onus for a peaceful change rests on the political class because they are the only ones who can effect this peaceful change. They should have a rethink and correct certain things. If they don't do this, one day, the trampled peasants would rise up against them. Already, they are seeing some of the traces of it. People are getting fed up.

I do not know if they are seeing it because the civilian populations no longer have fear for the law. This thing is continuing to build up. In those days, the fear of a police man is the beginning of wisdom. Police men are now being confronted brazenly. Police men of those days were equally very decisive and fair. Our fathers would run at the sight of tax collectors. Today, who pays tax? It is only the civil servants.

You seem to be saying that the political class is the problem of this country?

They are because they are the ones leading the country and making policies and implementing them. Who else? I am concentrating on the political class because they are the ones who have the responsibility of putting this thing on the right perspective. If they leave it for the followership to do, it would be a violent thing. They are the ones making the laws and enjoying everything. So, they should be realistic enough.

But the foundation of all the problems was laid by the military if I got you right.

That's right because the military disrupted civilian government. If they had allowed those our selfless leaders to continue, we would not have been where we are today. But they disrupted the most organized and patriotic foundation. Go to the South East, they are missing Azikiwe. Go to the South West, they are missing Awolowo. Go to the North, it is the Sardauna and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

Go to the then Mid West areas, they are missing Okotie-Eboh. Why is it like that? It is because these leaders were selfless leaders who have the love of their people in their hearts. This is absolutely unbelievable. This is me sitting here; when I was in primary school, Mustapha Primary School, when we are closing for holidays, one of the elders of our community would come and address us. He would tell us how to go and help our parents in the farm and that whatever your parents are doing, you should try as much as possible to help them. They would make it look as if that is the reason why they are giving you this holiday.

And from school, you will have the mentality that you are being relieved from school to go and help your parents. The message of the elder is such that would continue to reverberate in your mind. It would instill in you that sense of patriotism, clearly making you to feel that whatever you want to be, you will be. This society will support you. The system did not discriminate. I attended school with the children of the late Lamido of Adamawa, His Royal Highness; may his soul rest in peace. We were in the same class, treated the same way. If we commit any offence, we were punished equally.

Nobody singled them out to say this is the Emir's son. Now, our leaders are sending their children abroad because they have succeeded in destroying the infrastructure that is meant for such. They no longer have the confidence of the existing order. I hope one day a patriotic leader will come and make a pronouncement that children of all government officials should attend public schools. The same thing should happen in terms of health. All government officials, their children and everybody around them should attend public hospitals because as it is today, even for headache, our leaders would travel out.

It is ridiculous that our leaders would travel abroad, spending tax payers' money, to go for ordinary medical check ups when we have competent doctors in Nigeria. It is like they are always looking for excuses to travel out of the country for God knows why. It is in their own interest to make peaceful change possible because if they don't, then they will not be able to withstand violent change. We do not pray and hope for it; but it is the circumstances that would force people to take to violence.

The pictures you have been painting all along look worrisome and…

I lack good words to describe our situation. I am telling you. How can anybody say we are in this situation because our population is too high for the economy. That is too simplistic an excuse. Is our economy not reviewing? I remember when I came into the civil service, the budget of the then Gongola State was a little over N100 million. The whole of Gongola State that you now call Adamawa and Taraba States .

What is your conclusion?
It is as simple as I said. There are no two conclusions. Those responsible for this decay should be ready to put them back. The political class is responsible for this decay and only they can put it back. They came and infested the civil service with their virus. The civil service had no choice than to become their allies. Now, they have succeeded in destroying the civil service.

When I am a civil servant, you came as my Minister or Commissioner; this is a contract we used to award for N50; you advertised for this job, you brushed the contractor we were using for this job aside and asked the contractor you brought to make it N70 and you said, me as the permanent secretary, must accept it. Meanwhile, I see you as the ultimate and I am not prepared to be retired because I don't have a house and any means to sustain myself, what do I do? This trend continues until it reaches the very bottom. The conclusion is just one. The political class should have a rethink; otherwise, it would be otherwise.

With the kind of politicians we have now, are you sure we'll get it right, even with this your appeal for a rethink?

You have scratched it on the surface.
How different are the politicians of those days and now?

There are changes between the politicians of today and those of yesteryears. There is one phenomenon that distinguishes the politicians of today and those of yesteryears. If you take a look at the politicians of the past, none of them is materialistic. But the politicians of today, without exception, all of them have that influence of materialism in them.