Nigeria at 61, do we have anything to celebrate?
Yes we have come a long way. Nation building is not an easy thing especially when you have more than 250 ethnics groups where each one is looking for a place of governance. When you look back 60 years ago, I am sure quite a number of you were not born 60 years ago. My generation grew up under colonial rule and we saw how our colonial masters looted our treasury out of the country. The rail and road system they created were used to cart away what they could. But now Nigerians are in charge and like somebody says there is unity in diversity. Until bandits and boko haram came, Nigerians lived peacefully with each other and there was a lot of interaction among Nigerians. So I think it is something worth celebrating. I understand the frustration, we could have done better. But we have made progress both in terms of education, road infrastructure which at the moment is dilapidated and needs to be repaired. Nation building as we saw it in the last 60 years is a tremendous job confronting the government of the day. In term of when we were young the mortality rate for children was very high maybe during our time out of ten children, three would be lucky to survive but because of the construction of healthcare system and better environment, I can say out of 10 children, maybe seven survived and this has increased the population in the country and this is where we are today.
What is your view on the security situation?
In the last couple of years, peace in Nigeria has been destabilised. First, with Boko Haram and later on banditry, kidnapping, asking for ransom, destroying government property and vandalising farms. Certainly, this is an issue of concern. But despite the shortcomings, especially the overstretching of the security forces, they are doing the best they can under the circumstances. We could do more by strengthening our security forces by increasing the number of people who are involved in security, recruiting more into the security forces and equipping them adequately so that they can face the challenges of providing the security of life and property in the country. Also, citizens should assist, as much as possible, the security agency by giving them information’ where and how these miscreants are operating because they live among us. We know where they are so let us expose and give information to security forces to go after the bandits and all terrorists disturbing the country.
Where and when did we go wrong as a nation?
I think this is a question for all of us to answer. I think in answering that question I will also join the question of whether the military contributed to destroying this country. It depends on where you are coming from. I, as a military retired personnel, will say the military did not destroy this country. The military fought to keep this country together. You can see, during the military regime, the infrastructures put in place. As much as possible they tried to give a direction of nationalism so that we all can look at Nigeria as our country. On where we got it wrong, it is a difficult question to answer. Before the discovery of oil, Agriculture was the main source of revenue of this country. Along the line, we discovered oil and forgot farming. After the military handed over to civilians, instead of them talking for Nigeria, when they speak they speak for themselves, their state, local government or village. You hardly see anybody talking for Nigeria. I think that we got it wrong there. We need to talk for the country for its unity. Of course to be able to do that there must be equity and justice so that everybody is carried along so that everybody knows he or she is a part and parcel of this country.
When the military handed over power was this what you expected?
No, we expect a more united country where our leader’s concern will be for the welfare of the people and the progress of the nation. We expected that there shouldn’t be any bitterness in politics, because whether you are in opposition or in government, you are serving the people. In government, you legislate and give governance. In the opposition, you checkmate the government to ensure that they do the right thing and implement projects that will bring development for the country. Now, we find that due to one reason or another there is a lot of agitation from the state for one thing or the other.
My appeal to all is to keep peace and maintain peace because without peace we don’t have a country. Secondly, I appeal to the government whether federal or state government to ensure there is peace equity and justice such that every citizen of the country will be given equal right to be part and parcel of the union.
What do you think brought about the agitations for secession we are experiencing today?
I think the perception of being excluded from the scheme of things. They have a feeling, one way or the other, that they are being excluded in the scheme of things, rightly or wrongly. On how to stop the secession session idea, I repeat there must be equity and justice and there must be an effort to carry everybody along in governance, in the developmental provision of infrastructures. Also, in appointing people into various offices, there must be equity and justice and there should be equal representation. I think if this is done we will kill this agitation.
Have we celebrated our founding fathers as we ought to?
I will throw back the ball to your court – media. The media contributed to the lack of celebration of our leaders and founding fathers because all we read or hear are stories of wars, you castigate everybody and put everybody in the same basket. For us to celebrate our heroes there must be fair reportage. A leader in any country is a human being and certainly as a human being they are not 100 percent perfect. Definitely there is an achievement. There is no leader who will come out purposely to be wicked or destroy the people he is leading. Yes everybody has a concern for the people under him. I am yet to really see where the media eulogized an individual. I am not saying you should not criticise, of course, it is your job to criticise and also give a possible solution on the way forward. But we are not doing justice to our founding fathers in the way we frustrate them. I can hear elderly people talk about the past leaders like Awolowo, Sardauna, Akintola and so on. Are we saying that after these leaders, Nigeria does not have leaders worth celebrating? I believe there are people who have done well for this country.
How can we bridge the widening gap among Nigerians today?
There is need to bring the understanding among our people and I want to believe the National Youth Corp Service is one organisation that can bridge the gaps among our people in that people from the South who have never been to the North and those from the North who have never been to the South, at the end of their academic learning, are posted to various places. Those from the North are brought to the South to see how they live and appreciate the problems of the people. For example, from the North you go to the South you find out about the riverine areas, where they have problems with water. When you come to the North, there is no water. So when we do this, Nigerians will understand each other. Also, I think there is a need to revive the organisation called MAMSER through which the government explains the situation to the people. I believe this should be in a town hall meeting where you discuss issues and educate people. Also we can do so through unity schools. I think we should have more such schools so that our youths and children can go there and interact with themselves. I think that is one way to go about it.
What will you say about the debt profile of Nigeria?
The man who is wearing it knows where his shoes pinches him. But certainly the debt is cause for concern. Let’s pray that whatever loan we get is utilised for the project that it is being assigned for.
It is not always easy for a military ruler to hand over to a civilian government. But, in a record time, you did that. Were you pressured to do so and were you satisfied you did?
I am satisfied we did the right thing by handing over to the democratically elected government.
I wouldn’t say I was pressurized. On the contrary, the people were asking me to prolong my stay because the first time I said we were going to handover, nobody believed what we would. But when they realised that we meant business, the politicians were now asking us to prolong our stay so that they can now prepare for the democratisation process. So we were not pressurized.