Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: The Country's Problem Is Poverty - Sule Lamido

interview

JIGAWA State Governor, Sule Lamido, in this interview, argues that the current debate over who becomes Nigeria's president in 2015 is a misplaced priority. He adds that no part of Nigeria can singularly lay claim to the 2015 presidency. Lamido also defends his anger over the comments made by the National Security Adviser on the alleged role of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the current insecurity plaguing Nigeria, among other issues of national significance.

The question of which section of the country would produce the next president in 2015 is overheating the polity. People are saying President Goodluck Jonathan will contest, while others are arguing to the contrary. What is your take on the issue?

As a Muslim, I believe tomorrow belongs to God. That is very important. Of course, you may wish, but the determinant is God Almighty. Now, that is very basic. Thereafter, people have faith to dream dreams; people also have faith to aspire to anything. But what are you talking about? Are you talking about a Southern Nigerian president or you are talking about a Nigerian president? If you are talking about Nigerian president, all forces must come together to make him. We know the North may say we must get it, because the North tried it last time.

Atiku, Babangida, Aliyu and Bukola, when they all lost, they focused on Buhari. It has to be Nigeria's consensus. People are just fooling themselves. There is no way one section can lay claim to it. All the northern governors supported Jonathan in 2011. All we want is for everyone to join forces and create a Nigerian president. Why would the debate start so soon? Talks about 2015 are all political talks. There are more pressing issues to the nation than 2015 debate.

You were once quoted as calling for the sacking of the National Security Adviser, NSA, because of the comments he made about the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on the current insecurity in the country, what is your grouse with the NSA or his comments?

That is your interpretation of my comments on the NSA. If you go out of Nigeria and say Nigerians are mad people, how would that feel? If I go to England and say that Nigerians are crazy people, how would you feel? We have many parties in Nigeria and I belong to PDP. I am a founding member of the party and I know the culture and ideals of the party. I know the pains and crisis we have been through in PDP. We have also suffered personal pains for the sake of the party. How can someone who just joined the party last year, say such a thing about PDP? What he said, whether in context or out of context, is against the party. I made comments about NSA because I am defending my party and I stand by my comments.

The security challenges facing the country appear to have stemmed from agitations by different sections of the country. Which part of the country would you sincerely say is genuinely marginalised?

It's all politics. I want you to look at the poor man in Ibadan and the poor man in the riverine area around Bayelsa, with the poor man in Jigawa State and the poor man in Sokoto State. Also, look at the rich man in Kano, the rich man in Bayelsa and in Lagos, you find out that they share things in common. Nigeria's problem is poverty, and no matter what you say, human beings will always say 'give me more money, either do or die; I want resource control' etc. You see, so long as we remain a country, we can only be safe, if the entire country is safe. If there is hunger and hardship in one state, then, no state is safe in Nigeria.

Today, in Nigeria, all these political noises about marginalisation, your Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), Boko Haram, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and so on are all manifestations of failure. If the people are happy, if the people are contented, and, therefore, there is peace, there would not be face-off. But when you see despair and pain in people's faces; there is no future for them, naturally, they will act.

No matter what you do in terms of making money for yourself, if the country's majority of people are not happy, you cannot be happy yourself. You can build the best house, you can put an high rise wall, you can put American wire, CCTV camera, hire a guard and put bullet proof doors and gates, you are still not safe, because they will call you and say 'Mr. Hiding Man,' we are coming tonight.

So, why don't you begin to look at how you can contribute to building a good society? Nobody wants to be a thief; nobody wants to be a Boko Haram; nobody wants to be a thug; nobody wants to be a Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) member; nobody wants to be a member of the Oodua People's Congress (OPC); and nobody wants to be member of MEND.

But what is the essence of this? If they feel abandoned, what do you expect? The problem is simply what do we do to raise the status and the standing of our fellow brothers nationwide, whether they are Northerners or Southerners, whether they are Muslims or Christians or even whether they are pagans. They are Nigerians whose well-being is also important.

It is believed that the revenue accruing to your state is meager. Yet, you have been able to achieve some physical development, apart from putting in place a social security system on which millions are spent monthly. From where do you get additional funds to do all these?

Governors are elected to operate as governors of their different states. You don't think everybody would adopt the common kind of approach to governance. We all campaigned. So, what else would I be doing in office, if I don't do what I am doing now? Before we came in, as a political party, we were going to our people to canvass for their votes. They saw us as people they could trust and voted us in. What next do you expect? Of course, you begin to exercise that authority. That is all. Why should people be grateful to me for doing what I am supposed to do?

You see, it is because our level of political education is low. We should raise the level of dedication; we should know that there are certain expectations in governance from leaders. When they don't perform, you should demand. People have this mentality of the conquered and, therefore, see governance as patronage, as if it is privilege to be given what is yours by right. There is something wrong with us.

Why is it that you always mark Democracy Day with public lectures in Jigawa State since you have become the state governor?

Right from the day I came into office, I came with a very clear vision of what I wanted to do with the office. And I come from a political clan where, to us, politics is not something mercantile; it is not something you see like an industry. Our political philosophy is all about serving your people.

When I got elected, a major problem I observed with Nigeria was that government and governance have no bearing on people. May be it is because of military incursion into politics; obviously, the military, when they came in 1982, destroyed our dialogues, because they didn't run a government which would think of anything called legitimacy. And because they used the power of gun and so on, the system of their operation has no diplomacy, no due process.

They begin to make the law on the way they want to govern you. Normally, discussions, consensus, brainstorming on opinions characterise democracy. But the military, when they come, they design their own kind of law; your feelings, your well being, your opinion and whatever have no meaning to them, because they don't need them. So, majorly, they destroyed all the values that made our system responsive; which made the system accountable to the people. And they began to impose brute force through their government.

And naturally, the people became afraid and they became disconnected. So has it been over the years, in the last 25 or 30 years. Anybody today in Nigeria who is 30 or 40 years might not have known what they call good governance. Anybody who is 30 years today must have been born in about that time we are talking about. Anybody who is 40 must have been born then. So, the younger generation of Nigeria's population has had no access to government based on law and order. And because they all carry this lacuna in them, anything you do, they celebrate it.

In simple terms what sort of intervention have you made about this since 1999?

Our effort since 1999 has been to restore this procedure, this conduct, the regulation, law and culture of running according to law. Though, the operators are elected, but then, it will take time to change the psyche and orientation of a system which has been so embedded; so engraved in people's minds. The moment the institution of government is deficient, an aberration becomes the norm.

So, it is this link that is really missing; that lacuna. When they speak, you find out that they have no reference point. We want to set the agenda; what do we want for ourselves as a federation; as a country? Define that first. When you define that, then we will march on to what I call sovereign benchmark; something which will unite us as a people with common ownership. You have to know how you want your country to be. It has to be properly defined.

How do you think this can come about - at least from your experience?

The question is 'how do you restore governance to the people?' The people's ownership of it is very important. If you have the ownership, then you are able to link up. People have to be linked. People look at government in a very abstract way; like 'it is your government, it is not my own.' So, first, return ownership to the people, by doing things according to the stipulation of law and order, under due process, transparency and accountability. It is for me to reconnect the people with the government.

What I did on my first anniversary in 2008, was to go over the radio from 1 May up to 29 to begin to address the people on activities of government. The party chairman was the first to appear on the programme, reminding the people that this is the party that campaigned last year; that asked for your votes. The speaker, the head of service and the chief of staff came on and addressed the people.

And the people called in because it was a live programme. It was rounded off with a public lecture entitled; Political Parties and Party Culture. It was to teach that political parties are not vehicles for making money. They are vehicles for fighting a larger cause. Nigeria's failure is the failure to look at the human question. Across the country, it is the same story. For instance, you say textile industries are closed.

The same happened in Kaduna, Kano and Lagos. The cotton is produce in Nigeria by Nigerian farmers. It is exported to Germany and other foreign countries and then they make them into these fabrics, the lace or whatever. And they bring them back to us here, because they don't wear it; we wear it here. So, we feed their market, while we undermine our own economy. And again, nobody will wear Nigerian fabric. If 100 million Nigerians could purchase only 20 metres each of Nigerian fabric, that would amount to two billion metres. Imagine the number of people that would work to produce that two billion metres of fabric; the cotton farmers, the cotton sellers and so on.

This country is endowed; it is blessed by Allah. It is the people that are undermining their own country. Nigeria's story is the same in Enugu, Abia, Bayelsa, Borno or Sokoto or Ibadan. As I said, our failure is that we have not improved wellbeing of the human person. Whatever we do must focus on the development of our people. We should be able to have contented citizens. So, it is part of our efforts that we have been organising the lectures every year. Last year, I think the topic was The Missing Link in Contemporary Nigeria.

What is that?

What is the missing link in contemporary Nigeria? It is all about value. It is part of our own contribution to broaden the frontiers of democracy, because democracy cannot suddenly flourish on its own, it just has to be developed. You want your democracy to be like America's, you must know that in America, there is what they are doing for democracy. Here in Nigeria, ordinary basic law of hygiene is difficult for people to obey. You claim to be civilised, yet, you defecate by the side of the road. Americans don't do that. We must continue to reflect on daily basis. So, our effort here is to deepen democracy for coordinated national development.

Some of the projects on ground in your state are said to have been initiated by your government. This could mean that the economic standing of Jigawa is just being fired now. Can we know any more efforts you are making to give the state a sound economic footing?

I am in the PDP. I'm different from an All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) governor. Obviously, they are two different cultures. What I'm doing is PDP programme. Number two, development; what do we mean by development? Who are you developing? For you to develop, which area are you looking at? And how do you ensure that each area is working in tandem with the other?

You have to ensure that things are working right for a purpose. And so, to be able to attain development, you must first of all do something. Business people will normally look for profit, and in business, there is no relation and there is no friend. America sells arms, war planes, war ships and so on. These things, they know, are dangerous. Yet, they keep on producing them, because they are searching for the profit there.

Under war situation some countries and people would make money. During Biafran war, different people kept singing 'go into the trenches.' From the war, they were making a lot of money. So, the question you would ask is 'how do I make Jigawa State conducive?' You can't do anything without security. Security is very paramount.

Beyond the government, there is also the contribution of the people, which is very important. After my election, I called all stakeholders; I called the emirs, I called the mallams and I called all our elders who were ministers under Sheu Shagari and even those who served with Tafawa Balewa who have become aged and experienced. I called non-governmental organisations (NGOs), political parties. I said this is Jigawa. And this is the burden of Jigawa by Nigeria and Nigeria through donour agencies; the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank etc. This is what we are. Then, we said let us close our doors, though we meant metaphorically, so that we can work harder inside.

Can we know about your government's social security programme?

The purpose of government and governance is their effort to provide intervention to save what may be considered a near emergency or a very serious nightmare. It is an intervention. For me, to have a humane society; for you to have a society with heart for feeling and compassion, you must look at the weak people. Who are the weak people? How do you save them? Look at a man who is 50 years old and is crippled. There are 45-year-olds who are lepers with stump as hands. This condition of theirs is not their making. The system of government in the last 45 to 50 years failed to address such problems ab initio. Simple routine immunization in the last 45 to 50 years; regular vaccination; regular medical examination would have been able to take care of these.

Some of them are of very old age; they should not be abandoned as the destitute and all money spent on those who are healthy.

So, it is for intervention. At least, before they die, give them comfort. Don't look at the quantum; don't look at the amount being spent on it. Look at the role it has played to instill sense of humanity in those people.

Some of these people are trainable and we train them so that they will be useful. There is one that is crippled and we trained him to make shoes. But there are some that cannot be trained. For example, someone that is being pushed in a wheelbarrow, how do you train that? How do you train someone whose hands are stumps? How do you train a 70-year-old man to acquire skill and make a living? That would be callous.

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