Former director-general of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and elder statesman, Alhaji Idi Farouk, in this interview with ERNEST NZOR speaks on some pressing national issues.
Whats your view about politics of the past and what we have experienced in recent years?
Nigeria of today is not the same as yesterday’s. I don’t think so because the politics is not like before. In the past, if you work, you get paid, meaning that when you serve the party and the party wins an election, you’re compensated adequately. If you’re serving a party it means that you believe in their ideals and manifestos and there’s nobody that is better placed to drive this manifestos to its logical conclusion like somebody who believes in it. But in the politics of today, after the soup is cooked, you bring strange persons, who do not believe in what you’re doing, who never participated in what you’re doing, and nothing can be more unfair. Also, note that in this new clime, your friend stops being your friend when you get new political appointment, he would not be picking your calls or respond to your SMS, that’s bad. Is Nigeria progressing as a country? Yes we have, no doubt about it, but have we progressed as we ought to? I doubts.
There is a school of thought that believes the executive presidential system we practice is faulty, what’s your view?
I would have preferred we go back to the parliamentary system because it is less cumbersome and we can afford it and I would advocate for it. It even answers the question of payment because you take your cabinet from the people elected by the people, meaning that you take your cabinet from colleagues and the opposition too will have its cabinet known as shadow cabinet, meaning you’re putting the heat on the elected ones. A parliamentary system is one where the prime minister himself will be a member of the parliament.
What’s your thought on restructuring sir?
What is restructuring, what do you mean by restructuring? If restructuring means that we should go back to the way we were before in the regions, I agree. If restructuring means that we should go back to the six geo-political zones, I agree, meaning that all states in the Northwest makes one region, I agree. Because again, it makes governance less expensive. If you recall the old western region, how many minister did they need to administer the entire region, or the northern or eastern region? Probably fifteen or twenty. Today, that same western region, if you include retinue of special advisers and commissioners and governors, that same region has well over 200. All of them with full compliments of payment, security and what not. If restructuring means these things I just listed earlier, I endorse it entirely. If restructuring means that the things you get from the ground belongs to you and then you pay whatever is agreed to the centre, I also agree but I do not know what you mean by restructuring.
What do you think government should do about the documents from past constitutional conferences or confabs?
The government should look at all the documents; all the documents that have come out of past constitutional conferences especially the last confab. The last one drew inspiration from the ones before it because the last one contains some good decisions from the other ones, so government should look at it and begin the process. Nigeria cannot take the load it’s carry at the moment. Every state you go to, you have proliferation of ministries, of things that are not necessary. The kind of ministries and the kind of people who are managing it are good technocrats.
What is the solution to the protests surrounding the End SARS saga?
The police have the responsibility to create units they deem fit will help in accomplishing their tasks. I have no problem with police creating SARS or SWAT, it is their right to so do. But the excesses of any units they created should be checked by the police. I also endorsed some of the demands by the protesters. The police should be reorganised in such a way that their allowance and salary structure must be improved upon because they are protecting lives and property and their condition of service must be improved too, if they must have a barrack it must be a place of abode. Because when you get people frustrated and put them on the street with guns, you’re creating problems for yourself that is the situation will find themselves today.
I also endorse their request that erring SARS officers should be prosecuted. I do not think the timing for the launch of the SWAT is appropriate. They should have looked at the problem of SARS improve on it before launching SWAT. That should form the basis for SWAT.
What is your view on agitation for Igbo presidency in 2023?
My view is that goodness and kindness abound in every zone. What my views are today is that I don’t want an Igbo president. I want a president of Nigeria who happens to be from Igbo extraction or Hausa extraction. Not a Hausa president neither do I want a Yoruba president. How does politics work? Let us even get it right. As we speak today, the ruling party is APC and they don’t have their strength in Igbo land. You think they can pick their presidential candidate from the east? I’m just asking. That is why, may his soul rest in peace, Isa Funtua, advised the Igbos to join the APC. But the Igbos have strength in the PDP. So, the PDP can produce Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. Basically, when he said so, people didn’t see the substance of his comment. It is more like calling for them to participate and they have good materials for God sake. Peter Obi is a good material, he can be. Orji Uzor Kalu is a good material, he can be. But right now in the APC, Rochas is already on the field, so he can be. But don’t forget that delegates will be invited. Whilst Lagos will be bringing full delegates to that convention to choose a candidate, Rochas is handicapped from bringing delegates to the convention. And it is only one candidate that will emerge at the end of the day. So, are the Igbos qualified, sure they are. So also are the Ijaws, so also are the Idomas, so also are the Tivs. So long as you are a Nigerian, you’re qualified. So, how then do you go about it? And don’t forget, nobody will say you come and be president. But if a group within the party sees you as formidable, they can support you, bring you out and begin to sell you. Who says that Kingsley Moghalu who contested the presidency in 2019 cannot be president, he can be. The governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi who is one of the best performing governors today can be. Because if you know Ebonyi before and you go there now, you’ll see the difference. That is a good material. Don’t forget the Igbos have been given the mandate before. Ogbonnaya Onu was the candidate of APP, he was elected in Kaduna. So, it is not a statement of fact that they’ve been denied nobody has been denied.. It depends on how they play their politics.
There is hike in prices of food commodity, tariff of electricity, ASUU strike, what do you feel should be the solution?
Let government go back to the former electricity tariff. Even the former price was high. Because government has to give something to the citizens. If they want to subsidise, they can subsidise power. They should subsidise power rather than petroleum. Since they have removed the subsidy from those merchants who were not even bringing in fuel and getting paid. Government can now be able to subsidise us. I don’t know who is given them that advise maybe it’s the IMF. if they listen to IMF and not listen to the people that can be a dangerous one for government. In my opinion, they should listen to us the people and not IMF because the recipe of IMF worldwide has never been good for government and the people because there will be a lot of agitations and government will be unstable. So, why make yourself unstable when you can afford stability by giving to the citizenry what is their due. I will advise government not to put the citizens into hardship.
How come NOA, an agency you once led seems not effective again?
You have to understand the workings of the agency before you can say whether they are performing or not. Because they are not as vocal but they have 774 locations across the country. They have level 14 officers manning those location. The NOA is the only agency of government that has the highest number of graduates. None have it again because of their staff structure. Part of their responsibility is to work at the local government, to advise government on a monthly basis on its report. They have special report, if they see certain things which the security agencies will not advice government on, they are charged with that responsibility. I cannot compare my time as DG with what obtains now. Their funding is another issue we need to look at. They are poorly funded. Lets take the issue of COVID-19 for instance, the only agency saddled with responsibility of sensitisation, education, information and mobilisation of the citizens is the NOA. but you will see that the NCDC has hijacked the responsibility and any fund release for such resides with them. INEC too say they are mobilising voters, they cannot do that. Don’t forget that if NOA wants to put advert in papers or TV they will pay. It is not free, even in NTA. You have to look at their budget, it is not enough. There was a time I had to go defend the budget of NOA at the National Assembly, I told the budget committee that I am charged with the responsibility of educating the voters, the citizenry and you’re given me paltry amount to do that. Can you compare that with the amount each of you paid your party to get to this position? Now you’re giving me excuse, you know why I don’t blame the National Assembly, I blame the system for giving budget in envelope to the minister to share amongst the agency and the MDAs, each MDA should be allowed to present its budget.