‘States Creation Has Done Nigeria No Good, It’s Been Counter-Productive’
Prof. Ango Abdullahi, an academic, politician, and elder statesman recently clocked 76 years. In an nterview with SAMSON EZEA, the former Vice Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, and former minister went down memory lane, speaking on the nation’s past and present, and how the ruling class have continued to divide the country along tribal and religious line for selfish benefits.
HOW do you feel at 76?
I feel good. If you look at the demography of the country, the various age groups and life expectancy, you will agree with me that 76 years is a big plus. I am very grateful to God for keeping me alive and healthy. The only thing is that I cannot feel the way I felt 25 years ago, but that is normal.
What is the secret of your being strong and very articulate at 76?
Well, I don’t know the factors but if I look at my family history, certainly there is scientific evidence that there are certain genes that we inherit. There is gene for longevity in certain family depending on a number of environmental factors. My father died at 100. My elder brother died at 90 plus. There is something that connects me genetically with my ancestors. I also engaged in active sports during my school days.
How do you react to insinuations in some quarters that you are a controversial man even in your old age?
Well, if you look at our environment, there are certain ages where people are expected to keep low profile in terms of their social activities or engagements. Perhaps, it is expected that when people reach those ages, they play advisory role for the younger people.
However, some say that I am controversial because I am still active on issues that affect the country. People are asking why shouldn’t Ango Abdullahi be resting now or writing books and others. But looking at it objectively, the fact that one is still active in what is happening around him does not mean he is controversial.
But you are believed to have served in several governments that failed?
No. In fact, I did a lot for the country. I was in position of authority at the age of 32. That was when I became a commissioner in the old North Central state. I became the vice-chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria at the age of 39. In later years, I was involved in the formation of the PDP and served in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s government in 1999 as a minister. So I was quite involved in governments at various levels in the country.
Personally, all my life, I have been in very productive positions until I retired. I cannot look back and say that I fail in any assignment given to me.
Some say your stewardship in ABU was marred with controversy?
Which vice-chancellor will not have controversy with students, especially in a University full of students and lecturers’ activism with radical lecturers like late Dr. Bala Usman and others?
It is expected that there will be engagements and debates between the university authority, students and lecturers. Yes, it is true that the university witnessed a very lively period then which was part of educational development.
I enjoyed my tenure of eight years at ABU as a very young man. I was the longest serving vice-chancellor of the university after Prof. Ishaq Audu.
Today, those who were undergraduates in ABU during my stewardship are testifying about my contribution to the development of the university. I am happy about it and I have no regret for my actions while there.
So, why are you consistently making public comments on issues affecting the country?
It is because I am still alive and care for the wellbeing of Nigerians. Thank God I have not given up on my understanding of the happenings in the country. I am mentally okay and physically fit. I can sit and see things as clearly as possible. I should be interested in what is happening in my country. I cannot sit on the fence and watch helplessly. I am doing what is expected of me by being actively involved and engaged in issues that affect our country. I do not see anything wrong in people engaging in healthy debate on issues affecting them, not minding their age.
Could you say it is true that the Northern elders have failed the people of the region?
That is very true. If I look back, I graduated from University of Ibadan in 1964 and I joined the service of the Northern Nigeria in 1965. Sir Ahmadu Bello was our leader and I saw it all. For those of us who studied outside the North, we saw and learnt a lot from late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and others. Obviously, there is a lot of difference between the founding fathers of this country and those of us who call ourselves leaders today.
In those days, there was trust and brotherhood among Nigerians. The leaders who were mainly our nationalists were selfless and patriotic. They were committed to the cause of the country, despite their differences in religion and tribes. They succeeded in leadership. It took them only 10 years to get independence for the country. They actively took the country away from the colonial masters. This was in view of the fact that we did not have sufficient manpower then because the expatriates were everywhere with few tertiary institutions in the country.
In 1961, there were only 2500 undergraduates in the country’s universities. So you can see the challenges of our forefathers in terms of manpower development. That is one aspect. These leaders depended only on agriculture as means of national resources. That was the only resource they had, but they took the challenge of building infrastructure. The entire railway system in this country was built before 1966.
For those who come from the North with Kaduna as its capital, there is hardly any significant addition to what Sardauna built. They include Ahmadu Bello Stadium, NDC building, the State House, Bank of the North, New Nigerian Newspaper, textile industries and others. This is where the issue of management, trust and accountability comes in.
At what point did the country derail?
One cannot be precise, but we lost it at a point. Things began to build up with the first disruption we had in the civilian administration in 1966. That was the starting point in my view. By the time we began to ask what were the consequences and implications of the intervention, we fought the civil war.
A country that fought civil war has honestly lost many things, not only lives or property, but most importantly trust. That was the beginning of the country’s problem.
With the successive military interventions and civil war, we lost a lot of things such as unity, cohesion, honesty and transparency, which we had before and immediately after independence. In those days when our leaders disagreed, they would do that with understanding, not animosity. I remembered when Sardauna said that the North was not ready for Independence, it drew a lot of flanks from his colleagues who accused him of drawing the country back, but they later understood his position.
Sardauna said that he was not drawing the country back. Rather, he was doing it in the interest of Nigerians. He said that he couldn’t plunge the North into Independence when they were backward academically, politically and otherwise. He further said that if the North was not stable before going into Independence, it would affect the rest of the country.
It was after the civil war that we lost values and trust as a people. We lost values that are expected of the leaders. There are certain level leaders do not go in those days. Over the years now, people have capitalised on these lapses to tear Nigerians apart for their own selfish gain.
Some thought that creation of states was a solution. We had three regions in 1960; the fourth one was created in 1963. The military government was pushed by certain elements to create more states and this continued. Today, if you are an indigene of say Imo state, you cannot get a job in Abia state.
Are you saying that state creation was an aberration?
Some people thought it was the solution to our problems. We saw the politics as many people were saying then that the North was too big and domineering. General Yakubu Gowon was persuaded to reduce the size of the regions through the creation of states. It was a political decision. To my mind, the opposite actually happened after the creation because the togetherness, unity and relationships began to erode the people.
The development began to draw Nigerians apart instead of bringing them together. People believed that there would be more development, more jobs and others. Till date, that has not happened. Even the cost of governance has escalated to the extent that the advantage of state creation has fizzled away.
One other area I think we made a mistake was in the change of our constitution from parliamentary to presidential system of government. Presidential system of government is very expensive. This has added so much pressure on the economy, and encouraged corruption in public offices. So many mistakes have been made. People thought that all those changes would automatically bring prosperity, but to no avail. The Nigeria I saw before 1966 was highly organised, well managed and well led.
But is it not true that state creation was done by the military to favour the region?
No, the Northern generals and the country were under immense pressure from political leaders mainly from the South to reduce the size of the North. They thought that creation of states would automatically divide the psychology of the Northerners not to interact politically. That was the intention of the promoters of the agenda then.
But the creation has favoured the North than the rest of the country?
The assertion is not true. Demographically and geographically, the North was shortchanged in the whole arrangement. The North has only one or two states more than the other regions. But we all know that territorially, the North has more than 75 per cent of the country’s land mass.
What about population wise?
The North cannot be less than sixty per cent. This has been the case since the days of colonial rule. We didn’t create. That was how we saw it. We knew we were cheated when Gowon started with the 12-state structure; the North had six, the South got six despite the North being more in size and population.
To my mind it achieved reduction in tension and fear, but soon after, the same situation emerged again.
Look at the inequality in council areas creation where a section of the North has more council areas than the South as a whole…
It still doesn’t make any difference. Allocation to the states and local governments is purely based on population. For the fact that there are 44 local governments in Kano State does not change the fact that they receive the same allocation with Lagos State. The 2006 census showed that Lagos and Kano are of almost the same population.
Why was the North opposed to the creation of more states during the last constitutional conference?
That again is the politics of state creation. There are some elites who believe that if state is created in their area, they will likely become governors, senators, and others. This is really what is driving the agitation for this. It is not about the wellbeing of the people. It is the machination of the elites. That is why when a state is created, the same people who struggled for it, takes control of it. All these have succeeded in escalating the cost of governance and promote corruption.
Why has the country continued to recycle the same set of leaders that have failed in the past?
It is the same problem of the elites. They do not want to leave the corridors of power. Elites persuade people in power to create offices for them to occupy, even when such offices are not contributing anything to the system.
The culture of impunity and fraudulent acquisition of material wealth has not change. The problem of the country is multi-dimensional, but the greatest of all is the elite conspiracy. If you go to market in Aba for example, you will see people from different ethnic groups relating and doing business well, but we the elites in our enclaves are conniving, plotting and conspiring on how to divide our people for our own selfish advantage.
We are the same people lording it over the rest of Nigerians. Today, only few of us are running the affairs of the country, cornering our common patrimony. You will agree with me that about 10 per cent of Nigerians are controlling the common wealth of the country and they are the ones creating problems for the country. Today, if there is any national issue at stake, the appeal will be on tribal, religious and primordial sentiment. No one is seeing things from broader and objective perspective anymore. These leaders are in connivance. Immediately they see ordinary Nigerians coming after them, they close rank. Political parties platform are being used as enclaves for operation by the elites.
What is the way out of these problems?
The solution to these problems is at what point will Nigerians arise against their leaders. Nigerians have had bad leadership, but they have survived because they have been able to divide Nigerians along tribal and religious lines.
Until the classes are clearly defined and identified, the ones at the top will continue to weigh down the ones below. The ones below can revolt and push them away. What is required now is mobilize and motivate Nigerians to see things for what they are. What they are, is that elites of Nigeria are the problem of the country. There is need for political re-awakening of Nigerians to push off the elites and breath the air of freedom.
Are you calling for revolution?
All human societies are going through one form of revolution or the other for change. Some of the revolution is gradual and peaceful. A situation where people know that there are a lot of resources, but poverty pervades the land, obviously there is need for action.
The people’s action could be through election just like the one we will soon have or through other means. My worry is that there are no much differences in the political party membership composition. They are the same people of yester years still running things the same way. There may be some individuals that are good, but not all of them. The difficulty will always be that the good among them are in minority. Something has to happen. Nigerians should work for peaceful revolution to transform the country and take it away from the elite conspiracy.
Choice of candidates in election should be based on track record of the candidates, not on party platform, money shared or religious sentiment. To my estimation, if we continue in this way, the country may not survive for long.