I KNOW WHERE NIGERIA WENT WRONG â€“ GUSAU
For over four decades, he served Nigeria at top security and military levels. Today, General Aliyu Mohammedu Gusau, the immediate past National Security Adviser, NSA, is gunning for the presidential seat on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. And he says this background provides him the insight into where Nigeria strayed.
Perceived variously by Nigerians as a mystery man and intelligence icon, the general last Wednesday veered from his past background of taciturnity and military standoffishness to field questions on diverse political, electoral and national issues from journalists at his Asokoro, Abuja home.
Sir, if you were to capture the essence of your presidential ambition, what would you say is the driving force?
Well, I have done so many things for this country and I achieved results. I have served quite a number of presidents, and I know when I went right and when I went wrong. So, I feel the time has come for me to put all the experiences I have gained (together), to marshal all the experiences I have, to harness all the technocrats into one team and so on that I met over the course of my duties to move this country forward. That is why I am running for the office of president.
With your diverse experiences and background, what would your consider the most pressing problem we have in this country today?
There are many problems. But the most immediate problem to tackle is security. Security is the most important thing today. Then you have the decayed infrastructure, which we have to re-build. Then we have the problem of the Niger Delta. These are the three major issues that I think are the most problematic now.
Let me ask a twin question, taking off from the last. You talked of three pressing problems. We had people talking about seven-point or five-point agenda at one time or the other. You have narrowed it to three. For us to assess whatever you will do for us, exactly what are you going to do differently, and how are you going to do it?
Secondly, some people think General Gusau has achieved a lot as a military man. Beyond that, how do you sell your presidential aspiration to the people?
Let me start with the second question. I was also in governance. I was a military governor of Ogun State in 1977 - 78. So, I guess there was a civilian government at that time. I was a member of the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC), a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council. Even as a young man, as a major in the Nigerian Army, I was accompanying General Akinrinade, and General Ejoor to the meetings of the Supreme Military Council during the General Gowon regime.
So, the question of governance is not new to me. Now, what I am going to do differently. As I said, from 1973 up to now, I have been in government, working with heads of state and so on. What I discovered is that good decisions were taken, but the implementations were bad. So, that is what I am going to do; to make sure that we implement what was decided, and make sure that what is decided is a good decision and in the best interest of the country, putting the country first.
We have seen over the years how government officials introduced waste into policy mechanisms which at the end of the day lead to corruption. How do you think this can be tackled effectively?
In this case, I will involve the private sector. When you involve the private sector, they bring their money, build, operate and transfer, and there will be no waste.
If you involve them in the generation of electricity, and involve another company in the distribution, you involve yet another in collecting the money. From the company collecting the money, you know how much is realised; the company in distribution, you'll know the quantity of power available, the company generating it, you will also know. I give you one example. Lagos State, they were collecting pittance in terms of taxes. But when they employed a private company to collect it, they were getting 50 - 60% above what they were collecting from the officials. So, we are to overhaul the entire system.
Given the example you gave, what that may suggest is that you may have to do something about the number of civil servants when you get there.
Well, the population of the country has grown considerably. Therefore, every sector is developing in terms of numbers. But one has to do an audit. If you look at the federal budget, about two-thirds of it is for recurrent expenditure. That is a waste. So, we have to do an audit of the personnel, of the remunerations, allowances and so on and cut the waste.
When the Nigeria Railway Corporation wanted to pay the pensioners, they said they wanted to audit them. Midway into the process, the entire exercise was bungled. How do you need that in building confidence in the system?
My government will be a collective one. Everybody will be a stakeholder, and once you involve everybody in what you are doing, certainly you will get results. Ethiopian Airline is the best incorporated airline in Africa for the simple reason that even a cleaner there has shares in it. So, everybody works hard for the success of the airline.
My government will involve everybody from the ward level to the centre, to make sure that we get the best results for our people.
Let's look at the consensus arrangement for Northern presidential aspirants. All of you subscribed to it. Assuming you fail to get it, will your presidential ambition flounder?
My word is my bond. I was a party to the selection of these nine wise men. Also, I am a signatory to the undertaking that whoever emerges will be supported. If I get it, it is good. If it is the wish of God that I don't get it, I will support the person that gets it.
The issue of corruption is one huge problem confronting the country. And people say if one wants to cleanse the Augean stable, one should take a look at what is on the ground. If you get to power, are you going to institute a probe of the immediate past administration?
Accountability! On the day I get in there, I will make it known to the people there will be accountability at all levels and that nobody is above the law. So, the idea of probing this and that is not what I am elected to do. I am elected to run the country, put Nigeria first, and manage the resources of the country. If anyone has something concrete against any former public official, no matter how high they are, they should take that to the court, and the court will determine whether the man is corrupt or guilty as charged and award commensurate punishment.
As a top intelligence person, do you see any roadblock to 2011?
I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was reading this morning that the data capturing machine contract has been awarded. I also read in the papers that the training of the people that will operate the machine will soon start. The registration of voters itself will start in January. So, as at now, I don't see any problem, because I believe and I trust the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and they told us they are on top of the situation. So, I am not a prophet of doom to say they don't know what they are doing. I believe in them up to this point.
You, IBB, Atiku insist the presidency has been zoned to the North by the PDP constitution. But the Nigerian constitution also allows the president, who is from the South, to contest. Now, educate Nigerians who have found themselves lost on this issue?
I will tell them to follow the constitution of the party, because it is the party that produced the president, and the president operates the constitution of the country. So, if I want to join the party, I will never aspire to be elected. And if I don't get elected, I won't assume the office of the president. So, the party headquarters has the mandate to clear all this, because the chairman of the party himself is a product of zoning. Two weeks before he (Nwodo) assumed office, his predecessor was removed. They did not go to the South-West or North Central or whatever zone, they went to the same zone where he comes from and picked a successor.
Nigerians expect PDP to be leading the way as the ruling party. As a member of the party, why is PDP such a problem to the country?
PDP is not a problem to the nation. In every party there is intra-party crisis. This is what is happening everywhere. But because of the size of the PDP, the press and other Nigerians see only it. These things happen in Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN), and in all parties. We were talking earlier about the American election where somebody was not endorsed by her party and she went on to contest as an independent candidate and won. So, this is where we are. In this country, because we are not allowed to contest as independent candidate, that is why we have to stick to the party, no matter what he does not agree with or what is happening in the party.
Why should Nigerians have hope on General Aliyu Gusau to be different from previous leaders in concrete terms?
If you follow my career, any job that I do, I do it well to the satisfaction of those who put me there, and to the satisfaction of Nigerians.
So, when I say I will do only one term, I will do only one term. When I say I will do ABC, I will give a benchmark - from now to so period, we are going to do this thing. The following people are the ones to inspect it, or to implement it, and after six months, you people of Nigeria should judge me on what I said I would do during this period. Has it been done? If not, then tell me we are short of the target we set for ourselves. And I am not going to promise heaven on earth because I want to be elected. I know it will take years to stabilise electricity, but I will do something to make sure I am on the right course. And I will make that institution work, because I have a duty to build the institutions.
With all respect, I will like you to clear this rumour that has been making the rounds. They said you, IBB and the late General Abacha had a gentleman's agreement to succeed one another. The other two had been presidents except you. Is that why you are in the race?
First of all, when Ernest Shonekan was removed and Abacha became head of state, I was the Chief of Army Staff. The first person to be fired by Abacha was me. So, if we had an agreement like that, certainly, it is false. That's number one. Number two, in the 2007 elections, I contested. IBB picked the form, but later he withdrew. Now if we had an agreement like that, how can IBB and myself be competing now? He would have told the Ciroma group that, 'Look, Aliyu is contesting, so I am not contesting' and that there is an agreement. So, how can we sit down and make this agreement? Who knows who will survive each other? This story, how it got out to the people, how it was concocted is beyond my imagination.
Many people are concerned about the state of the nation's economy. There is no employment and the crime wave is spiraling out of control. Now, if you get to office, in general terms, can you tell us what you will do to revamp the Nigerian economy, but specifically to tame the monster of unemployment?
First of all, one has to do all within one's power to reduce inflation. And then to generate employment, you must have two or three things right. And that entails security, so that people are not afraid of being kidnapped or harassed or robbed. Then you get the electricity right so that industries, factories are open and people can go to work there. Then agriculture, which employs 60%-80% of our people. We will go into agriculture and start doing something. In the process we have to open up roads to go from the rural areas to urban areas to bring produce to the industries, factories, where it can be processed and sent out. These are the core issues that will confront us.
What policies will you put in place to tackle inflation? Specifically, under agriculture, what are you going to do differently from what has been done before, that has not yielded result?
I have seen other people who did it and succeeded. And that is the path that I will take. First of all, we will guarantee the farmers machete. There is no country that leaves its farmers without subsidy. The U.S.A does it. Europe does it. Asia does it.
So, we have to subsidise the farmers one way or the other: whether it is tractors, insecticides, pesticides, fertilisers and so on. But fertilisers are being abused. If you say you are a farmer and you have 10,000 hectares, we can ask the Ministry of Agriculture to go and see the land and tractors. What are you planting? And they will bring caterpillars to remove the trees there and bring the tractors to help you plant and so on. This, the government will do. We will improve on our dams so that they can serve as hydro-(sources for) fishing and irrigation. This can be easily done. They are doing it in Egypt, Tunisia and other parts of Africa.
We don't know your medical records. Do you think you are medically fit to be the president of this country? Secondly, I want to talk on foreign policy. If you succeed in becoming Nigeria's president, do we expect a shift in foreign policy?
I am medically fit. I can testify to that and I'm ready to appear before any medical panel to assess my health condition. After this interview, I will tell you a story.
Now, the foreign policy of my government. When I get there, it's Nigeria first. Whatever we can do to put Nigeria first in everything, we will do it. It will be the centerpiece of our foreign policy.
Would you propose that anyone that wants to become president must as a matter of policy be subjected to medical examination given the history of our recent past?
I volunteer myself for it. Any other person, I don't know.
People see you as mystery man, a complex personality, arising from your intelligence background.
How do you actually want people to situate your aspiration, and perceive your personality?
I have been Director of Military Intelligence, Chief of Defence Intelligence, Acting Director-General, NSO, co-ordinator, National Security Adviser, NSA.
If you look at all these records of mine, tell me any Nigerian that can claim that I blackmailed him, tortured him, or subjected him to humiliation or his family. The information that I have about myself, you or other people is given to me in trust, and I keep it in trust. I don't use it against my opponents. I don't use it against other Nigerians.
If I hold somebody and talk to him on an issue, it is something that definitely and seriously affects the security of this country; we have to start from somewhere. George Bush, Snr. was director of C.I.A. Because I held certain positions, it shouldn't be a minus for me to look for a bigger post. In fact, that should be a strength for Nigeria - that this man can pick his telephone, call the director- general of C.I.A and he will remember that we worked together. He can pick his telephone and call somebody in Asia, and he will remember that we attended Commonwealth security conference together. And then the criminals will be afraid; 'this man is there now. He will know what we are doing. Maybe we will let him go before we do anything.' So they will abandon their criminal activities. So, I think Nigerians are lucky to have a man with this background as president.
As a corollary to that, you have held these offices creditably. Those who know you also attest to the fact that in terms of knowledge you stand above so many people. But those who know you are the few who have been privileged to get close to you.
Do you think you can easily adapt to the life of a democrat, a peoples president?
I am already campaigning, going right, left and centre. In most newspapers today, you will see my adverts - double page. And I'm being interviewed now. This is the first time for me to sit down and talk with the press. So, I am opening myself to any occasion, anybody or anything. I have to. I volunteered to come and serve Nigeria because Nigeria has done everything for me. So, whatever I can do to give it back to Nigeria, I will do it.
You have been part of Nigeria's leadership for a very long time. So, if Nigeria is not growing, then you must be part of the rot. How do you react to that?
I know I participated in various governments. I am not dissociating myself from the activities of those regimes. This is why I said I know where we went wrong. This is why I want to come back and right the wrong. Yes.
You were in government during the June 12, 1993 presidential election annulment. What is your own side of the story?
The principal actors of June 12 are all there. It is inappropriate for me now to start talking about June 12. I will be unfair, because one of the actors is a presidential aspirant now like me. So I don't want to hit below the belt.
So, I don't want to get into it. I was there. I was the National Security Adviser at that time. Then, I became the Chief of Army Staff.
In your own words, what do you think is the problem of Nigeria?
So many things - the leadership and the followership?
What about the leadership and the followership?
The leadership, they have their problems, the followership, they have their problems.
Take, for instance, security. You will never report anybody who fails to stop at the traffic light. You just let him go. You as a citizen, you have the right to arrest him. It is lawful and constitutional. You don't do it. If you see your neighbour, you know his means of livelihood. And suddenly you see him with a brand new car, you don't ask question. This is the situation. So, each and every one of us has a duty to the nation.
What do we do to have a strong political culture and institutions?
My aim is to build the institutions. That is why I took active part to make sure that democracy stands. That is why I'm a founding member of the PDP, and I served for seven years as Obasanjo's National Security Adviser (NSA), all the time making sure that democracy is there. Even when President Jonathan called me back, I accepted to make sure that democracy survives. So, we are building the culture.