NORTH NO MORE TOGETHER-BAWA, EX-MILAD
Former military administrator of Ekiti and Gombe States, Col. Inuwa Bawa (rtd), has said that there was no reason for President Goodluck Jonathan to remove the subsidy on petroleum product other than to placate the governors to be able to accommodate the N18,000 minimum wage for workers.
He said all in a bid to win the election, the president had agreed to pay the minimum wage arguing that most governors are finding it difficult to pay it.
Bawa said with the removal of the subsidy, more money would go into the coffers of the governors to be able to accommodate the burden of the minimum wage.
The Makama Yauri, who spoke at his residence in Jos, on a number of issues said the major problems Nigeria is facing today stems from its running a very expensive democracy. Excerpts…
Problem of oil sector
I do not think that the removal of the subsidy would help break the cartel making a hell of money from the subsidy. Most of the refineries are not working to their capacity and they say this is deliberate because of the activities of the cartel. But I believe government is bigger than any individual. If this government knows there is a cartel, what stops them from fighting the cartel? All of us are subject to government's regulations and rules. Government can close its eyes and deal with it decisively unless the cartel is part of the government. If you care to find out, you will know most of the people importing fuel are connected somehow to people in government. An astute president who is ready to address the sufferings of the poor man would ensure that the cartel is a forgotten issue. He has all the powers and the constitution and the security agencies behind him that can be used to deal with the cartel.
The issue of oil cartel
The best way to get rid of them is to expose them to competition. You cannot ask them to stop their business outright but let there be competition. Repair the refineries and get them working at optimum at least, 90 per cent of their capacity. If all these products were refined locally, there would be no need to say you are putting money for subsidy. Anyone who feels he has the capacity to import after that should do so and let his product compete with the locally refined oil. Since 1999, we have not had one additional refinery. Even though Obasanjo was boasting that he constructed all the refineries in the country while IBB was saying he did one or two, Obasanjo in his second coming could not even add one or two more.
That is why I am saying that the cartel thing is an in-thing within the government circle; in the past and in the present. We need somebody that can deal with this. Jonathan said people want him to be a lion or Nebuchadnezzar or an army general etc before he can handle this country and he cannot do that. I have read so many comments on it but my candid opinion is that he should not have said that because as a president of a complex country like ours, he would need the attributes of all those people he mentioned. It takes a good and astute leader to know when to apply the attribute of all those people he mentioned at a particular time. There is a time you have to come out as a lion roaring; there is a time you have to mellow down as a lamb.
Our problem right from the onset in Nigeria has been that we do not have the right calibre of leadership in Nigeria. If we do, some of these problems would go. If we have a leader with the interest of the masses at heart, we should not have been in this kind of mess we have found ourselves in this country. If the refineries are working in full capacity and government pegs the price of fuel, then let the cartel go on and import and see how they will make it.
Illegal exportation of oil
There was a time our fuel used to be the cheapest in this part of the continent. It was around N11 per litre and rather than allowing Nigerians to enjoy the benefits, some callous people were illegally exporting it to other countries like Niger, Cameroun etc. That is part of the indiscipline. Corruption is part of indiscipline. We have immigration and other agencies at the borders then. All illegal businesses are going on through the watchful eyes of our immigration and other agencies.
My own contention is that removing the subsidy (that is if there is anything like petroleum subsidy anyway) will make the ordinary Nigerians suffer. There was even a hot debate at the senate recently on the fact that the subsidy on fuel was over spent by the NNPC. There are many things going on at the oil sector but they do not need to pass the bulk on the ordinary Nigerians. They are the ones going to suffer if anything is done on the price of petrol; even as positive policies like the increase in salaries of workers can have negative impact on the economy of Nigeria.
To my own understanding, the fuel subsidy thing is just a way for government to placate the governor. I am saying so because, before the 2011 election, Jonathan had pushed the minimum wage bill to the National Assembly and it was passed. I believe that he did not sit down to really reflect on the negative effect of fixing the N18,000 minimum wage arbitrarily without full consultations with the governors. Even if he did, the governors would have succumbed just to regain their seats at the election. It was just a political gimmick and now it has backfired. Every state is now facing difficulty in trying to implement the minimum wage. The Federal Government now feels the only way to get the state government out of their predicament is to remove fuel subsidy so that the states could get more money from the federation account. This must be the reason the fuel subsidy issue has again resurfaced; otherwise there is no need for it.
The problem of our educational sector is all part of the problems we are having in this country. The executive arm and the National Assembly are taking as much as 60 per cent of the total money accruable to the government. That is, if we put the population of both arms at about one million, it means the remaining 149 million people are sharing 40 per cent; with the infrastructure that have collapsed.
We are running the most expensive presidential system in this world. The only thing is that we have to make service to the nation not to be for self-aggrandizement. It is not that once you are selected as a minister or elected (if we examine it properly, they are all selected) as governor or senator, you have made it for life. We have lecturers whose take home pay is nothing to write home about and they are all watching what the political office holders are taking home; especially when some of them are secondary school drop outs; spending a lot of money on flashy cars. The problem affecting our educational system is disproportionate sharing of our educational wealth.
One of the solutions to the problems of our universities is the enhancement of salaries of our educational system. The issue of moral decadence in the universities which is even affecting every fabric of our national life is this emphasis on paper qualification. It is downgrading everything and causing students to become involved in all these malpractices including cultism. Government is no longer interested in funding the university as it used to be during our days when we used to have three square meals a day.
Then students carry trays in the dining halls and have their choice of food. Now central feeding is no longer possible and there are even up to 30 students in a room. Things have deteriorated. I do not know what can be done but with determination of people at the helm of affairs, we can turn things round. If we start from primary school level to begin to de-emphasise this issue of paper qualification, it would improve things. Some years back, we used to have technical colleges and teachers' training colleges and the system were working. Students need not go and obtain degree at all costs. Right from the formative years, those who are academically inclined should go through secondary schools and those who are technically inclined, go through technical colleges.
When those who go through technical colleges come out, they even get established easier than those who go through universities. Some go to the colleges of education to learn the rudiments of teaching. Now, all these things are gone; everybody must go through the university and get the paper. Someone with a masters degree in English is not qualified to go and teach English because teaching is a profession that needs to be taught. But nowadays, immediately one gets a degree, they go to the class to teach. We must go back and examine how all these technical and teachers' training colleges could be brought back. It is not for those who have learnt theories to be made to head institutions they knew nothing about and it is most probable they even bought the degree and are not qualified to know what to do where they head.
Post-election violence committee
The panel chairman came out to deny that he indicted Gen. Buhari specifically. He said the utterances of politicians before the election also contributed to the violence, which means that even the utterance of the President also contributed because he said he was going to conduct a free and fair election where every vote would count. How will every vote count if people do not stay to ensure that the votes at the ward level are counted in their presence? That was exactly what Buhari said. He said you should not leave there, cast your votes and ensure that the votes count. The only way is to stay there and witness the counting of the votes.
The panel did not single out Buhari. The real cause as they said was the issue of zoning which the President and late Yar'Adua were beneficiaries which they later turned round to deny the existence. They also mentioned the desire for change by Nigerians which even coincided with our motto, in CPC which is 'progressive change'. People also showed this desire for change. Someone disclosed to me recently that in a particular polling booth, not more than four people voted for Jonathan and it was counted but to everybody's dismay, what was announced was something else. This was one of the causes of the post election violence. If we ask ourselves, we will agree that there was massive rigging; quite different from what happened in 2007. The rigging then was crude; it was characterized by snatching of votes etc. That of 2011 was scientifically designed. It was mostly done at the collation centres. At the ward level, people were jubilating but at collation centres, votes were allocated to candidates who do not score that much.
Jonathan has assured Nigerians that he would come out with a white paper on the violence and we are expecting him to do so but I will not be surprised if some of the recommendations are doctored. This is not the first time he has promised and failed to deliver. For the 2011 election, he promised a free and fair election and it was not. I will not be surprised if what comes out of the recommendations are doctored.Performance of states
It was at Gombe state's celebration of 15th year of its existence. It was created in 1996 along other states created then. In all honesty, Ekiti and Gombe States have fared very well. The enormous infrastructural development in the states can even compete favourably with older states. I have been to the two places and I know what I am talking about. To call for a celebration in Gombe was right in order. But the peculiar thing about the celebration was that the governor used that occasion to recognize and honour all the past governors that have served in the state; which is a novel thing to do and it is in keeping with our national anthem which says 'the labour of our heroes past shall not be in vain'.
This is the first time that it has been done. I think the governor is on the right track because if one interacts with the people on that seat before him, he is bound to get a lot of input that would make his tenure a success; whether the person that was there before him was a success or a failure, there are certain lessons to be learnt from him. I think the governor has a good intention for that state and I believe he must have learnt some things from his interaction with some of us who were there before him . We, the former governors felt honoured by his remembering us and calling us all together. The event was very historic.
People making insinuation that the core North has been responsible for the crises in Plateau simply because the state is not toeing the same line with other states in the North or because Plateau is not supporting the agitation for power to remain in the North are doing so out of mischief. How will that be done in expense of peoples' blood and life? I think this is completely off the cap. There is nothing like that at all. People making such comments are doing so out of mischief and they know it. The reality is there.
The problem we are facing is that we refuse to face the reality. Plateau has leadership problem. Unless the leadership is seen to embrace and promote peace, nothing can work. Right now, we have Task Force on ground and many armed men and policemen have been posted to Plateau and what we have now is relative calm that is forced on people and not the one that the people embraced. If Plateau wants permanent peace, the leadership has to be seen to be neutral and seen to be genuinely interested in peace in the state. He must go out and promote peace and preach peace to the people. All we have now is a temporary thing. The Federal Government cannot keep the Task Force indefinitely in Plateau. There will be a time when it has to completely withdraw.
Will we be going back to square one? I believe that the leadership- not only the political leadership but also the religious and traditional- have to go down to the grassroots and talk to the people. You cannot just sit down at government house, palaces or churches and mosques and call people to come to you. You have to go and meet people. They feel more honoured if you go and talk to them than if they come to you. Go out, preach peace and talk peace with people and make them understand what Plateau people are losing economically, socially and in every sense because of the crisis. To say it is because Plateau has deviated from the northern concept is absolutely nonsense.
What is the North now? North is just a geographical expression just as the South, the East, etc. The North as one people is no longer in existence. The creation of the states has really diluted it. It is the same thing with the West and the South. Though the West gave bloc vote during the election to a party but that does not mean anything. Look at what happened, the AC presidential candidate was able to win in Osun State. Though we had the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Northern Governors Forum but all that are economic platforms to discuss issues that are common. In Plateau, we need to call the kettle black.
It is all idle talks to say what is happening in Plateau as another form of Jihad or Islamization of Plateau. What do they mean by jihad? Are there no Christian evangelists going everywhere in the North to preach their gospel? Why don't we say they are going about to Christianize the North? To be talking about Jihad and things like that is just a means of keeping people constantly at each other's throat. I do not think there is anything like that. Moreover, I think religion is a personal thing, we should be able to deal with each other the way we are. When it comes to religion, let everyone go and worship his God the way he likes without one stepping on the other's toe. We create problems where there are none. How can anyone say people are trying to Islamize Plateau?
I am yet to be convinced that we have Al-qaeda in Nigeria. People have a way of expressing their religious feeling. We have the Boko Haram. That is the way those ones see their religion. It is not the first time we had things like that. There was Maitasine in Kano some years back. Will we say they wanted to Islamize Kano or what? Kano is already 98 per cent Muslims and the Maitasine group sprang from there. So what is the problem? We tend to create artificial division within ourselves.
These are idle talks. If you ask those talking about Al-qaeda, what it is all about. I do not think they can explain it. It is just something that has captured their fancy and they feel they should say it to further divide people. There is nothing like Al-qaeda group in Plateau or even in Nigeria. The people talk about Al-qaeda sponsored and one would tend to ask what is our national intelligence agency doing? If they know of its presence, they would have not fished it out. I believe all these are idle talk; whether because of the failure of our leadership to actually stem the violence that is going on. If we keep on twisting things the way they are not, we can never get solutions to the problem. The earlier we face the problem, the better for all of us.
The issue is that there are teeming unemployed youths who engage in all these anti social vices by drinking solutions and smoking India helm. It is when they are in that stage that they commit these crimes like killing innocent people or destroying valuables. The issue is that the government should be sincere to itself and curb all vandalism being committed by these youths roaming about the streets. These are youths who with only N40 they are satisfied to go and take 'goskolo' and start committing crimes. Some of them are Christians and Muslims and anything no matter how small, be it a failed economic deal between two people could ignite these charged youths to begin to fight from the side of the divide they find themselves. Most of the problems in Plateau emanated from economic point of view and not about religious point of view. The political, religious and traditional leadership have roles to play if we are to bring Plateau back to what it was before now. I have been here since 1977 as a young officer. So, I know what I am talking about.
Need for dialogue
It is very unfortunate. Just like in Plateau, we do not treat issue on their merit. We always give them colourization so that we becloud our reasoning. Some people talk about this Boko Haram thing as a core northern phenomenon. When we heard the Niger Delta youths killing members of the armed forces, people in the North did not conclude that this is South -South issue. We viewed it as a national problem and that is what Boko Haram thing should be. It is a national issue, which requires national solution and the only way we can bring about an end to their activities is to sit down and discuss and negotiate with them and also give then amnesty. Innocent people are being killed and a lot of people are taking advantage of the Boko haram thing to commit atrocities in their name.
I do not believe that all the bombing and bomb blast being attributed to them are done by the group. The issue of Niger Delta started as a noble thing; of people fighting to correct the degradation of their land but it was later hijacked by criminals who came in and started killing and kidnapping people and all those engaging in illegal bunkering also took advantage of the Niger Delta issue. That is the same thing we are having about Boko Haram issue now. If that lady attempting to burn a church in Bauchi had done it successfully, it would have been attributed to Boko Haram. Government has to sieve all these and not allow insinuations going about seal through. Some groups in the South - South are even introducing another dimension to the issue.
They were threatening to take the battle to the Boko Haram's front. One tends to wonder if they are government agents to be saying this. It is an issue that we all seem to be afraid of. President Jonathan is belittling his status as the president of this great nation to be allowing the Ijaw people to be placing advertisement and making jaundiced comments on how they would handle the Boko Haram group. Are they the government? Or has he surrendered his mandate to them? Must they make it seem as if because he is an Ijaw man in government, he is there to do their bidding? The government must look at Ambassador Galtamari's report and implement it the way they can and also get some prominent people ready to go into the people and talk to them. The more time we waste, the more factions that would come out of the sect and that will be very disastrous for this country.