interviewBy Pembi Stephen
The convener, Northern Reawakening Forum, Ahmed Wadada, in this interview with Pembi Stephen-David, discusses the effort being made to return peace to the region. He also speaks on the stock market and other issues of national importance.
It has been a year since the Northern Reawakening Forum had its first conference, since then what have you been able to achieve?
The Northern Reawakening Forum has achieved a lot but it is not that known to people because we have decided to work before we go public; so there won't be much talk and less work. For now, after our media outing, we decided to pay homage to the melting points of northern Nigeria as far as security is concerned. We started in Plateau State where we had meetings with the authorities, that is, the government of Plateau State, with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) there, the Islamic leaders and then the Izala sect, all of which were independent of one another. After that, we had a town hall meeting which brought together the leadership and followership of both the Christian and the Muslims and the Izala sect. There we had very open, peaceful and transparent discussions.
In the course of our interaction in the town hall meetings, we came to realize that there has been no problem within the leaderships of both religions but we have been made to understand that every crisis experienced on the Plateau had one political inclination or the other. We were also made to understand that prior to that visitation, they had a committee which they called the Interfaith Committee which had the leaderships of both religions as members, but in time the government abolished it. As a result of our interaction and efforts, the government has restored that interfaith committee and it is now there to intervene for both religions at any time or when the need arises. After that, before the constitutional review hearing organized by the National Assembly, we met and said that we need to put up a face as regards this constitutional review and that led to the formation of a committee under the Northern Reawakening Forum which is chaired by Prof. Nuhu Alkali, former director-general of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS).
Its members include Rev. Obaje, Baba Ahmed and a host of personalities from the north. What we did was to look at the constitution of Nigeria in relation to the various demands that different geo-political zones or regions of the country are going for. As a result of this, all the six geo-political zones where public hearings were held, the Northern Reawakening Forum was represented there, and we presented our position. I personally presented our views as regards the amendment in the North Central Zone in Makurdi. Last week, a delegation of the Forum, including myself, was in Minna where we visited His Excellency, Niger State Governor Babaginda Aliyu. We visited General Ibrahim Babangida and General Abdulsalami to invite them to our end of year dinner. We also saw General Buhari and invited him to this proposed reawakening dinner which held last year. We have adopted a system that before we say anything we must have some achievement. We decided to talk less and work more.
Now, a lot of reasons have been given for the high rate of violence in the North particularly in the north-east; do you think that any group or party will benefit politically if the north is divided ahead of the next general elections?
Not at all. What makes the north what it was, was the understanding, the patience, the endurance of one another. Accepting one another for what we were was what kept the north going. There have always been religious and ethnic differences, but we accommodated one another. Today what is lacking is that accommodation, and that is because we have too many empty people roaming our political terrain. I would not want to say it is a political agenda, but it was politically motivated because we have empty vessels in politics: they are just there to enrich themselves or to use politics to carry their shoulders high; otherwise, politics should have nothing to do with violence, bitterness or strife.
A lot of your activities in the Forum seem to be focused in the Plateau, Nasarawa, Kebbi, Benue and a lot of people suggest that you are using this platform to launch your own governorship ambitions; is there any truth to this?
Talking about governorship of Nasarawa State, why do I have to go as far as Plateau, Niger, Kaduna, Sokoto and Kano just to stress myself? I am politically a household name in Nasaraawa State and the present governor, Al-Makura, does not have the name I have politically before ascending to that seat. It is not my political ambition; I do not know what I will be vying for in 2015. If it is councillorship or governorship or the presidency, it is God that gives the position. I will state that the Northern Reawakening Forum is not a vehicle for any politician or group of politicians in the north. With due humility God inspired the idea of this Forum in me. Today, a very honourable person is heading the affairs of the Forum, in the person of Hon. Mohamed Gumalia. The membership of the Forum clearly tells you that it is not a political platform for anybody because the Forum is composed of all manner of people. Some are beaurucrats, some are business men, and persons from different political parties in the country, so the Forum is a means to bring together and rejuvenate the lost values of the north.
You have been very critical of the Nasarawa State governor, Al-Makura. Your party members also criticise him, but he has responded by claiming that he has done better than expected during his tenure?
What has he done better? The 12 years that PDP spent in Nasarawa State, Tanko Almakura was also part of their government, so if those 12 years are nothing to write home about, then Tanko is part of it. Today that he is sitting as the governor, what has he done? Is it construction of roads, or commissioning traffic lights - which the PDP had done? Anybody who is the governor of Nasarawa State and after six months does not put in place policies to open up Karu, which is close to the presidential villa, I consider that administration a failure. I don't want to completely write off Al-Makura's administration; I am speaking politically - he is my brother on one side and on the other side he is my uncle. Over the years we have had a wonderful relationship but, so far, I am disappointed in his administration.
On national issues, you once headed the capital market and recent statistics that the Nigerian stock market has attracted the highest amount of foreign direct funds than all other sectors; with the crisis in different parts of the world, do you think this can be sustained?
I am happy that the stock market has started with a bullish run in this year. The global financial crisis and all other types of crises experienced globally will certainly affect the daily market transactions. But the forbearance that has been given to stock brokers is quite a wonderful step in the right direction. It should have been done earlier than now because I remember that, in 2008/2009, our market began to crumble, and there was a motion that was sponsored by me on the floor of the House of Representatives calling on the government to intervene. If the government had intervened at that point, the crisis in our market would not have got to where it did; but it is better late than never. This forbearance which has now been given is playing a very positive role in stabilizing the market. The next step is that the regulators of the market, which is the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) should be much more assertive. The authorities should really ensure that the rules of the game are strictly adhered to as concerns this forbearance because if it as abused, then we will be nowhere.
From the numbers coming out of the stock exchange, do you think that the House of Representatives should rethink its position on SEC boss, Oteh?
The numbers coming out now has nothing to do with Oteh's administration. As far as Oteh is concerned, I believe in the rules of the game. I find it very difficult to comprehend the honesty and sincerity of leaders in Nigeria as far as growth and development of the economy is concerned. The three arms of government must always have respect for one another. This respect should be mutual. I wonder why a sensitive arm of government like the legislature will resolve, based on public investigation, that a public officer be relieved of his duties and the executive is toying with it? It is most unfortunate. Oteh is not a sacred cow and not the only person to drive the SEC competently.
I personally do not have anything against Oteh, but what I am saying is that the position of the House of Reps which has been supported by the Senate did not just come out of the blues: it came as a result of an investigation which led to the resolution of the House of Reps that Oteh should step aside. If Hon Herman Hembe could be facing the anti-graft bodies, EFCC and ICPC, then what stops Oteh from stepping aside? But the executive is so indifferent, so irresponsive to that resolution, toying with the investments of people because they continue to hang on to the issue of whether Oteh should go or stay. Nigeria is part of the global community; how then do we expect any investor to come in with such attitudes? I am calling on the executive to please respect the legislature and for the legislature to respect the executive and the judiciary. I find it difficult to believe the sincere commitment of this administration as to the economic development of Nigeria. If they are honest, then Oteh should step aside. The SEC existed before she came and one day she will leave the SEC behind. If Oteh is found wanting, then let her go, otherwise we will continue to crawl to nowhere.
What chances are there for Nigeria to get a new constitution this year? Do you think that there should be structural adjustments as it relates to the local governments?
On the structure of government, I still subscribe to the existence of local governments because that is the structure that is closest to the citizens; it should extend to autonomous existence in the real sense of it. That involves the abolition of joint account; the state should stand independent of the federal and local councils independent of the state. There are proposals on abolition the state entirely - that we need only two tiers of governments, but for me I believe in the way the structure is today, and with just a few amendments we will get there. Today, a governor will just sit down and suspend, expel or withdraw local government officials; so we need to do something about that. Let's give the local government the autonomy that they deserve.