About a week ago, social critic and Second Republic parliamentarian, Dr Junaid Mohammed convened a very popular meeting of Northern academics, thinkers, media gurus, businessmen and politicians in Abuja.

The aim of the meeting was to confront the challenges before the North apparently against the background of the clamour for a Sovereign National Conference(SNC), among other issues. In this interview, Mohammed exuding both confidence and anger says that the North is ready for not just the conference but even for the break up of Nigeria if that is what the promoters of SNC wants.

Excerpt…

You have just convened a conference that assembled the academics, the business guru and a few serving politicians from the Northern Region. What is your own assessment of the conference in terms of the outcome?
Personally speaking, I am not keen on giving my own personal, objective assessment as it were. Rather, other people should do it; those who attended the conference or observed the outcome. It is up to them and other Nigerians who are fair-minded enough to pass their own value judgment in terms of whether it was good or bad, whether it was attended or not, or whether it has achieved its objective or not.

Evaluation naturally succeeds an event like this. Would you say the conference has achieved the goals for which it was set to attain? Would you say that it has attained the targeted objective(s)?
Over 90 percent of the people who visited or attended the meeting- it is more modest to call it a meting, and I am a modest person by inclination, over 90 percent are people who have been known to me. Some have been known to me for well over 50 years and some have been known to me for well over 40 years, some over 30 years.

And we have always been in the habit of sitting down to discuss current affairs, situation in the country, international affairs and what have you. So, when I looked back at the quality discussions with most of the people, I consulted with others and we decided on some of the people good enough to be included. In fact some of us were beginning to wonder how come this initiative had not come earlier.

When we consulted, we decided contacting our friends. We found that there was enough to talk about and there were enough people to do the talking. And we started sending out the invitation and our first task at the meeting was to ask if what we set out to do was worth- while, whether it was worth doing.

Whether we could rub minds and define certain situations and see whether we can give people who feel completely left out of the scheme of things, left out and marginalized by the nature of the Nigerian press, the Nigerian media generally to people who are saying things that are sensible and rational but do not always get the chance to say their mind because they don’t even know the media and they don’t even know the people who run the media and they don’t know the influence of some of these media people. And to make matters worse, quite a number of people are being insulted.

You know you (the Lagos press) insult a whole community; you mention a Northerner and it is as if you mention the North as if it were a colony of lepers and as if some of us are not Nigerians, as if some of us are not even human simply because we are seen as lazy, irresponsible or greedy and all sort of things. And we know that we are not that and we believe that it will be unwise to continue with this kind of charade and farce.

And then the issue of the so- called Sovereign National Conference has also been abused by people who have hidden agenda and who specialize in recruiting some people to do their dirty jobs for them, to do their dirty insulting job for them. And when the situation comes and it did during the civil war, they simply go underground and allow other people to die for nothing. And if you remember that the Nigeria Civil War cost Nigerians over one million people, you can see why some people are not keen to simply take up to insulting people and abusing people and that peace is better than war because after all, life is better than death.

From the names of attendees, it seemed that some of the people holding political appointments in the North in the present dispensation were quietly left out. Was it deliberate or an accident?

Well, I don’t want to categorize people on the basis of their intellectual worth or by their political appointment because there are people there who by any standard in any society and in any culture who are and must be regarded as intellectuals but who have also held political appointments. For example, Dr. Shettima Mustapha from Borno State, he was one of the earliest agricultural extension workers of Northern Nigeria. He has been a Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and that kind of things. So, can you now say that he is not an intellectual or can you say that he is simply not a politician?

The issue of the Sovereign National Conference echoed quite well in the communiqué of the conference. Let us have your perspective in relation to that call by some Nigerians for a form of dialogue?
Asking me to talk about the calls for the Sovereign National Conference will be a little bit unfair. Those who are asking and agitating for the Sovereign National Conference should now come and tell Nigerians what it is that they want. We agree that if there is going to be a Sovereign National Conference, that we would attend. However, in all the meetings that they have had, they (the promoters) have never invited anybody of consequence from the North. They decided that somehow, the North is against the convocation of the Sovereign National Conference and they will not invite the North.

Or they were prepared to have hired thugs, who will accept what has been written for them to go and say it. Now, if you are to be in your mind, can you see Balarabe Musa representing the North or even representing the defunct PRP? But he was invited and he claims to be speaking for the North. That to me shows the level of duplicity and audacity of this people and those behind the calls for the Sovereign National Conference. If you want people to be represented, you look for their genuine representatives, the genuine people who speak for them. Whether what they will say is pleasant or not, but at least, you know that they are speaking for some people. If you ask a rather nobody like Balarabe Musa to, then he will speak for nobody.

Then, when it suits you, you say that Balarabe Musa is representing the North; and when it does not suit you, you say the North does not like Sovereign National Conference.
Now, if these people decided to hold a meeting of the conference for any reason or for any purpose, and they did not invite other people who also have a stake in the outcome of that discussion, is it fair for them to say that nobody wanted to come from this part of the country? Is it also fair for them to decide to choose those who will represent this part of the country?

Are you canvassing that those in the South West who held the meeting for the conference should have reached out to the genuine leaders of the North?
And to other leaders, not just that of the North: To the leaders in the East also. The young man who chaired the so-called pre -Sovereign National Conference meeting, who does he represent? He was born in Gusau in Zamfara State. He had his education here at the Igbo Union School. At the moment, he cannot even be regarded as independent because he is beholden to Lagos State Government, beholden to Tinubu and Fashola, because they have given him a political appointment and he is still holding that political appointment and that appointment is also lucrative. Secondly, they also facilitated his becoming the dean of the Lagos Business School.

Now, you may be a little too young to remember: The last time there was an attempt to give a non-Yoruba person the Vice Chancellorship of the University of Lagos, which was still a federal university, there was mayhem. The Vice Chancellor was Late Professor Njoku, an eminent biologist. Somehow, not because he did anything wrong but because he was not from that area, they decided they didn’t want him, that they wanted a Yoruba professor and that grounded the entire Lagos.

The meeting you convened in Abuja is another conference. But is it a reaction against the proponents of SNC or a genuine effort of national building as some of you have claimed?
Well, first and foremost, if you look at my political career, I have never been involved in anything parochial. And I have never needlessly reacted, even when people( Lagos press) have been provocative to me or towards me. But where an issue has become a national issue, rightly or wrongly, whether the issue has been properly defined or not defined at all and we are at the risk of being dragged or pushed to slip into another civil war, without knowing it, I think anybody of conscience, especially those of us who are young men, who saw what happened between 1967-1970, we have a responsibility to say, “ look, yes here I am, if this is a valid and meaningful discussion, I will participate. If you want to have a fight, I better start preparing my own side so that I don’t get slaughtered in my sleep”.

As far as I am concerned, this issue of Sovereign National Conference has been on the table for a very long time. Governments, even those who made promises that they will convene an SNC dodged the issue. And if anybody were to be accused of being afraid of the so called SNC, it should have the likes of Obasanjo, who promised while he was campaigning that he was going to convene one, and when he came, convened a different thing entirely and wanted to use the constitutional discussion or whatever, to perpetuate himself in power and extend his self in power to be a life president. Now, those of us who have nothing to do with it, then and now, are being accused and are being called names. So now, those who want to hear from us what our position is will have the opportunity. Yes, let us go ahead and do the conference but I want to warn every Nigerian, that what they call -those agitators in Lagos – what they call Sovereign National Conference is nothing but a complete transfer of power from the current leaders of the executive branch, from the legislative and even certain judicial powers to the Sovereign National Conference, which will be sovereign. It will be the ultimate authority in the land.

What would you prefer to happen in Nigeria today?
Clearly, they have rejected the idea of using the current institutional structures and constitutional mechanisms to conduct political dialogue. They don’t want the Senate, they don’t want the House of Representatives, and they don’t want the judiciary, even though they dominate at least two of these three institutions. And they have nothing but contempt for the Presidency unless it is held by their own man. And when their man was in charge, even though he was tribalistic and corrupt as anybody can be, the element who dominated the discussion of SNC did not want to admit that he was a factor in the discussion.

They simply made noise and nothing serious. When he left, they came back full blast to talk nonsense. So, whatever they want, we are ready for it, including the breakup of the country. If they want to initiate moves to break up the country, fine. If they want to secede and form their own Oduduwa Republic or the MOSSOB people want to reenact the Biafran tragedy, they are welcome to it. But they should know that it is not going to be their own decision only; it is going to be the decision of all Nigerians.

What if they decide to go for the latter option?
Oh, for goodness sake, you are telling me now to read a crystal ball when I don’t have one. It is up to them to say this is what they want and come out clearly. We are tired of people speaking to us in codes, in clichés and silly meaningless agitation. Let them tell us they don’t want to be part of Nigeria; let them tell us they want to be part of the Oduduwa Republic. That will be fine. If those in the MOSSOB are demanding that they don’t want to be part of Nigeria, fine. If the terrorists in MEND and NDVF or whatever they call themselves say they also want to have their own state, fine. Let me tell you, in the event of the breakup of Nigeria, which will be very unfortunate, the North is the only component that will remain one and united.

And we will retain Abuja as the capital of that truncated Nigeria much to our displeasure. We also have two other cities which could serve as capital of Nigeria. Kano is as good as a capital anywhere in Africa. Kaduna will be good a capital too. Don’t forget, Kaduna was the capital of Northern Nigeria. So going back to Kaduna will be the natural thing for us to do. So what is all the farce? What have we gained from being a part of Nigeria? Tell me! I don’t know what I gained for instance. Look at the revenue allocation formula and tell me how this revenue allocation formula can ever allow peace and stability in any country, not just in Nigeria, which already they say is an artificial creation. And let me tell you that in the event of the breakup of this country, Ilorin and Offa will remain 100 % Northern Nigeria and not one each of land will be ceded to them.

But as an elder statesman, a scholar and a politician, don’t you think that there is a need for restructuring of this country?
Well, in the first place, you have to define your terms. There is no country which is perfect. There is no country which is entirely harmonious or peaceful. But crisis and problem, be it economic, social or political, are inherent in human nature and are inherent in every country on earth. If every time you have a problem what you do is to dissolve the structures and start all over, then you have a long way to go. As far as I am concerned, there are problems in Nigeria. But the problems are more class- based rather than ethnic-based. But the irresponsible Nigerian political class prefers to forget and ignore the issue of class. Instead of doing that, we prefer to always blame somebody else.

Today, an Ijaw man is the president, everything that happens; you say it is the Ijaws. But 99% of Ijaws today are not and do not enjoy anything out of the Goodluck Presidency, and the same thing had happened when Northerners were in charge. Now, the world is telling us poverty itself is Northern phenomenon and that 90% of the poor in Nigeria are from the North. That, in fact, we have a skewed system of income distribution whereby those of us who are 62 % of the population and constitute 72% of the land mass have a per capital income of 200 dollars per annum.

Whereas, those who contribute nothing earn income of about 6000 dollars per annum. I say they contribute nothing because what is dug from the soil is not their contributions, God put it there. Nobody planted it. How you can have peace under this circumstance is entirely up to you and those agitators to tell us.
From the revenue allocation figures that are sometimes published in the papers, a couple of Northern States are well catered for than so many states in the South. Some States like Kano and the rest of them are in miles ahead of states such as Enugu , Ebonyi.

Who told you that?
I am speaking based on the figures of the money distributed to different states on a monthly basis
What do you know about figures? Excuse me. I participated in the 1982 Revenue Allocation Act which was in itself a product of the Pius Okigbo Report. Even under those circumstances, there was no basis of what you have just said. The five states of the South East during the Civil War at that material time had the population almost equal to that of Kano State. Are you now telling me that if Kano gains something that is marginal and extra and above what the South east is getting, that is something advantageous?

What is advantageous about that? Nothing! You are saying that what Rivers alone gets which is more than the entire seven states in the North -West is okay by you? Somehow, Kano did not enjoy anything special. Let me tell you, the population factor is only one weight used, there are other factors. Those factors were designed and divined by late Pius Okigbo. Pius Okigbo did not come from Kano. He was not a Northerner, but he was a distinguished Nigerian who did an excellent job and it was clear that the revenue allocation he gave us in 1982 was essentially in existence until 2002 when Obasanjo came and in his pursuit of Third term agenda induced the National Assembly and the Governors of the oil producing States, notably Odili and Alamieyeseigha and others, who had too much money than they had senses, to compromise Northern Senators and Northern members of the House of Representatives.

That was how the current allocation formula was born. I must say that I am proud of my track record not only in respect of the 1982 law, but also in alerting Northern Governors that this was a very dangerous formula. And I told them, including even some governors from Igbo land and some from the South West: “Don’t accept this revenue formula because it is a recipe for disaster, that sooner than later, you have to come and reverse it. Don’t do it and at the end of the day you will to come and do it and send this country into a terrible tailspin, with nobody knowing what will happen”.

But there is poverty everywhere in the land and not in the north alone.
That is not fair. In the first place, are you saying that it is the Northerners who are writing the reports? These are reports by the IMF and the World Bank. Under normal circumstances, people down South always play up what has been mentioned by IMF and World Bank, some of these capitalist institutions. When it doesn’t suit them, they are quiet about it. Okay, forget about the IMF and World Bank, what of the recent report, just this month, from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics? How many Northerners work in Nigeria Bureau of Statistics?
Some other areas, even in the South are also wallowing in poverty and are not being favoured by the distribution of allocation in Nigeria.

Look, I think you are deliberately trying to misrepresent what I am saying. I am saying that the basis for some of these figures is that you take the total sum of the nations GDP and divide it by the number of population and you come up with an average income per capital. That is what it is in economics. I am not saying that there are no poor people there. I did not say so. All I am saying is that as far as possible, we should try to eliminate poverty and no matter where it is found. It is a on a scourge on our population and it is a debilitating disease which has to be dealt with because it is a waste of our human resources and it is also one of the principal factors which is dragging us back. So, wherever we find poverty and corruption, we should fight it. But what I am saying is that to whom much is given much must be expected.

Terror crisis in Nigeria today is assumed to be tied to the raging poverty in the land. What do you think should be a way out of the challenge?
Look, as far as I am concerned, there is no way you can disambiguate the issue of Boko Haram and the kind of situation we find ourselves here in the North and the poverty in the North unless you are telling me that these boys in Boko Haram are crazy. And that cannot be so. When these boys, these terrorists in the Niger Delta are blowing up flow wells and oil wells and installations, the media down south said that they were not being fairly treated. Now when you take a terrorist in the Niger Delta, you find that invariably he is a graduate.

Most of the oil bunkerers are chief and big men with university degrees or persons who have served in the army or in the navy which they predominant. But when it happens here, you say, oh; it is Muslims, it is the Hausa Fulani. Nonsense! Poverty is a universal phenomenon. It has been with human kind since the beginning of man. But if you are sincere, you can eliminate it. Even in some Western countries, which are advanced, there is some amount of poverty. That is the kind of poverty they call ‘case poverty’ which is limited to certain areas mostly in the urban areas. But what we have here is a mixture of case poverty in the urban areas and mass poverty in the rural areas.

Unless we strive to eliminate poverty and we are sincere about that, we will continue to have poverty forever and ever. Unless there is a consensus among the so-called Nigerian political class, there is nothing we can do. Unless you fix the politics of this country by getting the elite to admit their own responsible, rather than rely on the pages of the newspapers and abusing other people, this controversy would continue on and on and on.

Source : Sun News