By NBF News
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Former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Caretaker Committee Chairman for Plateau State and elder statesman in Benue State, Chief Abu King Shuluwa, has lamented that Nigeria's pace of development is not commensurate with the vision of its founding fathers. He said that Nigeria is still far behind countries like Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea which got their independence almost same time. He spoke on these and other issues to ROSE EJEMBI in Makurdi. Excerpts:

50 years of independence
Somebody who is in the village who has never seen Makurdi, Benue State, will say yes, things have changed a lot. That there are many schools, vehicles, hospitals, urbanization and so on. In those days, you cannot see so many vehicles, televisions were very few. We started with small radio, then radiogram. From radiogram to television, from television to satellite and so forth.

When you look at these things you say whao, we have come of age. But have we really done as much as we should have done? No, not at all. Why is it so?

Fifty years ago, I was in primary seven. When you finish your primary school and you want to go to secondary school, later, you want to go to Higher School Certificate (HSC) and then the university. At each point, if you felt that you would not continue and you wanted a white collar job so that you could support your family, you would get it. But today, it is different. People in primary schools when they drop out, they want to go into politics.

The same with people in secondary and the university, when they finish, no job, they want to go into politics so much so that politics is choked up.

Everybody has become a politician and when you have everybody becoming a politician, what do you have? There will be serious problem because those who cannot fit into politics properly would hire thugs. Once you go into politics, you want to win at all cost. What you do is to hire thugs. You rig and do all kinds of abnormal things which are not acceptable in a civilized society.

Then, agriculture was faring well. Farm produce were sold to pay our fees. Everybody took agriculture as a serious business because it was the bedrock of our economy. Today, agriculture had been neglected because of oil. What do we do with the oil? We develop infrastructure in urban centres. Build nice airports, buy aeroplanes to fly to where? To New York, London etc, and leaving the rural areas unattended to.

The rural areas are not benefiting from the oil wealth. There is a big gap between the haves and the have-nots than it was in the past. The haves were very small in the 60's, but today, although in terms of population the haves are still small but the gap between them and the have-nots has widened. When you have that kind of thing, you have misery in the society. The most annoying thing is that 50 years ago, Nigeria was better than today, because 50 years ago, the leadership was very honest. We had honest leaders who were not greedy and leaders that wanted something for the people.

Today, the leadership from low level to the highest level is very dishonest. There is so much corruption in the land. You give somebody a job today, tomorrow he is building an estate and within the official circle, he is busy doing nothing. When you look at 10 years of democracy,what individuals have put in place is more than what the government has put in place. If you have 20 ministers, if they want, they can put 20 hospitals but can a government boast of putting 20 hospitals in 10 years? If you estimate what individual commissioner or minister has built in terms of houses, it can make up a hospital. But can you say that the same government which the minister is serving can build 20 hospitals in 20 years? No. Why? Because money is being siphoned for private use. Our leaders are working for themselves, families, relations and friends. That is the difference.

In the past, a leader might have nothing he may not even have a house. He may have just one vehicle, the official vehicle that he would use. These days as soon as they are elected or appointed into a position of leadership all they want to do is to acquire estates. You see them building houses everywhere. How many houses can you sleep in? There are some people who do not have shelter on their heads. There are some who cannot afford three meals a day. There are some people who cannot afford to pay their children's school fees. Yet, there are many that can eat and throw away. If you go to their backyard and you see the kind of food that is being wasted.

Fifty years ago, Nigeria was better than South Korea. When we attained our independence, we were far better than South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and all these Asian countries. Today, we are 50 years behind them if not 200 years. South Koreans are now producing cars, aeroplanes and the rest of them. If you go to Malaysia, Singapore and all these other countries and you see their medical facilities and their schools, you will weep for this country. Our schools are dilapidated.

In those days, schools were better built. The structures that were constructed even if they were not roofed with zinc, were properly roofed. Benches were properly provided with a hole on the top where you put your ink. Everything was free. Today, you pay for hand-outs in the university you buy our exercise books from primary school to university. You pay for everything, yet the quality of education cannot be compared to those who passed out 50 years ago. People who passed out 50 years ago in primary school could write letters well. Today, graduates can hardly write letters. Despite all these, we have made a headway. Fifty years ago, we had three secondary schools in Tivland. Today, we have over 200. Our first graduate in Tivland was in 1964. Today, we can boast of so many graduates but we are pen-pushers.

In the 60's, politics was not meant for everybody but today, politics is for everybody. In those days when you were sent to school, and you finished, you could easily get jobs with its accompanying benefits such as a house and a car. When graduates finished school, there were companies waiting to employ them. In fact, as soon as you dropped your pen, there was a paper of employment given to you. Today, graduates stay 10 years after leaving school, no employment. Fifty years ago, you could take a railway from Port-Harcourt to Kano. Today, the railway is completely gone. We can say the roads are good in some places, but the rural roads where agricultural products are being evacuated are getting worse by the day.

Our attitude towards politics is so bad. The must-win, and winner-takes-all attitude. You see 20 people contesting for one seat and each of them is telling you that he is going to win. When these things happen, what do you expect? Rigging, violence. In the past, we used to experience violence and that violence was because people could not tolerate injustice. Today, we are so sophisticated that we tend to employ all kinds of violence. When you think that somebody is your enemy, you send thugs after him.

In those days, parliamentarians were part-time and not on full time like what we have today. Look at the budget of the legislators today. The budget of the Senate alone is more than those of two states put together. What about the House of Representatives? What ought to have gone into development have gone into remunerations and allowances. You see one person taking over N45 million non-existent constituency allowances. How can we develop? We have not imbibed the culture of conducting free and fair election based on this I must win attitude.  Those elected into office only look after themselves rather than provide democratic dividends to the populace.

At what point did Nigeria miss it?
We missed it soon after independence. Nigeria has never seized the opportunity of being patriotic. Immediately after independence, Nigerians were no longer Nigerians. We all know that in 1914, there were Southern and Northern protectorates. We all know that there were Yoruba, Igbo, Tiv, Efik, Housa, Fulani, and so on, and all these came to be in 1914. As we became Nigeria we should be patriotic, we should be thinking Nigeria but sadly we didn't. We think Yoruba, we think Hausa-Fulani, we think Igbo, we think Tiv and so on.

We don't think Nigeria. Whoever is a leader thinks he is a leader for his people. A Yorubaman that becomes a leader feels he is there for his people. He makes sure that the Yoruba feel a particular place. The Hausaman does the same things and the Igboman too. And then, you have the minorities. When they get to that position, they look at themselves as minorities and not as Nigerians. Employment into positions are no longer meant for the qualified. We lost our patriotic sense and everything went wrong. We cannot develop better unless we think Nigerian.

Fifty years ago nobody cared where the money to develop this country was coming from. The money was coming from agricultural sector and nobody cared. Today, the Niger Deltans are fighting to control the oil. They have 13% derivation, NDDC and Niger-Delta Ministry yet they are not satisfied. They forget the fact that when Benue is getting N1.3billion from the federation account, Delta State gets almost N11.billion. After that, he gets the normal allocation based on the population indices available. When you add that, he gets about N14 billion monthly when Benue is getting less than N2 billion, when Yobe is getting less than N1billion, where is justice? Where is the sense of patriotism? If Nigeria wants to develop we must develop the culture of patriotism. Everybody must think Nigeria.

What is the way forward?
If rebranding is a better thing to do, we would have achieved something. Rebranding is to tell Nigerians that we must change our attitude. The rebranding must start from the lower level up to the highest level. We must also change our attitude towards politics.

US prediction on Nigeria breakup
Not now. For Nigeria to break up or remain together depends on what happens in 2011. From what we are seeing today, if the situation is not properly managed, then Nigeria will have problem in 2015. A situation where people have refused the fundamental agreement of zoning. Where people believe that there is no zoning or even if there is zoning, it doesn't matter because the constitution has given them the right to do whatever they want to do. How can you forget about zoning when you are very sure that Nigeria is a multi-national country where we have very many major tribes? If we are not careful, Nigeria will have problem in 2015.

Do you foresee Nigeria having a free and fair election in 2011.

A credible election depends entirely on our attitude and not Jega. Jega doesn't conduct election in my ward. In fact, he will stay in Abuja without even knowing Benue. We have 274 wards in Benue. Can Jega be in every ward in Nigeria. You have over 20 polling units in a ward. Therefore, the attitude of politicians the I-must-win, do-or-die, winners-take-all must be put away. We must stop imposing candidates on people. We must allow the people to elect their leaders. Unless these things are taken care of, we can never have credible, free and fair election in this country. And then we turn round to blame the man who is sitting in Abuja. That is why, I did not blame Iwu, and I will not blame Jega if the election doesn't turn out well. I will blame we politicians. We must change our attitude towards election. In whatever position we are seeking, we must accept defeat.

What kind of president does Nigeria need at this time?

We are under a democratic government. The kind of president I want is the president that understands Nigeria. Experienced, tested and he must be a politician. He must be somebody who understands our problems. We want somebody who has traveled wide in this country, who has known the problems of this country. A lot of those who are contesting the presidency, if you ask them even Benue, they don't know the problem we have in Benue or other parts of the country. Some of them don't even know the problems they have in Abuja.

The next president of this country must be somebody who is prepared to sacrifice and not somebody who wants to come and emancipate his people. We want somebody is a Nigerian who will build bridges across from North to South to East and West. Not somebody who wants to come and be parochial in is thinking. It's not someone who will say I am a Tiv man, therefore everything I want to do must be Tiv, forgetting the fact that there are Yoruba who are also Nigerians. Forgetting there are Igbo, forgetting there are Itsekiri, Hausa, Ibibio and so on. The person must know that Nigeria is big and it has different tribes and languages. We want somebody who understands our social, economic, and political problems.