Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa is a frontline Nigerian politician of the leftist ideological bent. Born in August, 1936, he was elected Governor of Kaduna State in 1979 on the platform of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), a political organization that was led by the late Mallam Aminu Kano. Outspoken and sometimes controversial, Balarabe Musa holds the unenviable record of being the first Governor in Nigeria to be impeached by a state assembly that was peopled with members of the opposition National Party of Nigeria (NPN). To many others, that development may have taken them off the political radar, but this accountant-turned-politician quickly dusted his gab and moved on to become the Chairman of the Conference Of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), while remaining active in the leadership of PRP.
Though age is beginning to take its toll, Balarabe Musa is still politically vibrant, ideologically unshaken and patriotically committed to the development and unity of Nigeria.
Recently, TheEconomy’s Chinedu Obike visited his residence in Kaduna where he granted a no-holds barred interview that x-rayed the uncertain state of the Nigerian nation. Excerpts:
I was a bit taken aback when I came through your gate, flung wide open and saw your modest residence. For somebody who has been the governor of a state as big as Kaduna, what is it that drives you to live as humbly as you do?
I would attribute it to my orientation as a devout Muslim; a fundamentalist if you would. A devout Muslim and fundamentalist does not, for instance, tolerate arrogance and excessive affluence. Secondly, my ideological commitment as a socialist which originated from the time I was a youth and after I had had some sort of Islamic influence.
Thirdly, I went to Britain to study with mature students. So, already, I was mature and quite aware of the happenings in Britain and the world, at that time. And fourthly, I can say that I became a governor, which is your reference point, at a time I was not quite mature; at a time when someone could become a governor or president without relative maturity. I became a governor of Kaduna State at that time and when you take into account all these things, you will find that my attitude to affluence and materialism can’t be as repulsive as that of a much younger person.
At the time you were Governor of Kaduna State, I was in secondary school. This is my first time of seeing you live, and I’m surprised that many years after, you are still this strong and relevant in national affairs. What’s the secret?
My background and social experience are responsible for what you see. In addition, I have links with people from all over Nigeria. For instance, when you talk in terms of Nigerian politics, particularly post-colonial politics, I was a student of Zik, Aminu Kano and Awolowo. I tremendously appreciated the modesty and relative progressiveness of those leaders. And so, I can say I am a student of all these. Some of them were as old as my father and I gained a lot of experiences from them. I was also observant of radical leaders of those days. The most outstanding of them and in fact, the most inspiring young man in the left, was Dr Chike Obi, the Mathematician who founded the Nigerian Communist Party.
At independence in 1960, the founding fathers had dreams of a big Nigeria that would lead the entire Africa. Where did we get it wrong?
We got it wrong when we failed to see and accept each other.
Do you think that Nigeria is a mistake; that the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 was a blunder by the British?
Virtually every country in the world was made that way; almost every country in the world came about as a result of amalgamation of nations or different sections. This is the same thing that happened throughout the world including successful countries such as America, Britain and so on. Nigeria was brought about the same way in 1914. So, the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern elements was not a mistake. No country came up as a monolithic entity, made up of just one ethnic group and is still surviving till today. Except, of course, Israel which came about as a result of war, can you mention any? Israel itself has not succeeded because it is made up of Arabs and Jews, in virtually equal proportions. So, there is no country in the world that didn’t come into existence as a result of war, actions or political decisions.
Are you worried by the tension in the country right now with agitations for secession, quit notices, and all of that?
Nigeria has always been facing threats of succession. Virtually every section of Nigeria had done that at one time or the other, except the east. The Igbos were never secessionists. Before the civil war, no Igbo man of substance talked about secession, but throughout the history of Nigeria, the North, the Hausa-Fulani, Muslim elements, have always talked about secession. The Yoruba and the South-South existed then because it was a WAZOBIA affair. So, you can see that secession has always been part and parcel of Nigeria as a result of the interest of Britain to keep Nigeria together for easy exploitation. You can also talk about the interests of the founding fathers and those that succeeded them which saw tremendous benefits in a big country Nigeria has remained, and will continue to remain. Those who are talking about secession now in Nigeria, whoever they are, I don’t think are politically relevant.
For instance, recently, I was reading about southern leaders calling for so many negative things. Some of them have very good names; very few of them, but who are they in politics, even in the south? They are people that have always identified with secessionist tendencies; not people who have the interest of Nigeria as a country, right from the beginning. There was a statement, even an ultimatum; an ultimatum just as stupid and unrealisable as the one by the northern youths.
Anybody who understands the north should know that those youths who issued that ultimatum are not capable of articulating that statement. Northern youths are 40 years backward; indeed, they are 40 years behind the youths in the south. How can they articulate such a thing? How can they? They don’t have the social freedom of doing this because the northern youths are always obedient to their elders. You do not expect anything like that to come from them.
Are you suggesting that the quit notice given by the youths must have been inspired by the elders?
Obviously, and one of the elders has identified himself. The security agencies have identified him. Nothing has happened, probably because they are giving him time.
When the ultimatum was issued, the Governor of Kaduna State quickly responded by ordering the arrest of the youths concerned, but till date, no arrest has been made in connection with the declaration. How do you react to that?
I’m worried and I think this has to do with the carelessness of the Federal Government which has led to another ultimatum from Southern leaders. The Federal Government should have done something about it immediately; they should have arrested those behind it. Okay, look at it as an ultimatum by northern youths in spite of the fact that I made it clear that some people are using them. Now, the Federal Government is aware of those behind it and should deal with them immediately. But, they haven’t done so and it has given rise to another ultimatum by the southern leaders. Obviously, this will be followed by others. And let me tell you, it is the stupidity of government for allowing this development. Drawing from the political history of Nigeria, has the south ever successfully confronted the north? For instance, when the north opposed self-determination, and the south, made up of the east and west, were against the activities of the north, could they do anything? They couldn’t because the south itself was divided. These people — the elite in the west and east— have they ever united? No. The elite from Yoruba land and the elite from the east have never united and will never unite, simply because they have conflicting interests. Can you recollect the political manipulations that eventually brought about the conflict between the north and the East, and the military coup in 1966? I’m talking about political manipulations. Was it not between the elite in the west and the North? But, when the military coup took place, what happened?
You say the South can never unite against the North, but it does appear the Middle Belt is eager to create a new identity for itself; calling for restructuring when the north is against it.
Which identity are you talking about? They may say what they like because of the genuine grievances they have but they are northerners. There is no doubt about that.
Yes, I said the south has never succeeded in uniting against the north because of manipulations; because of intrigues and betrayal. You must learn from history and there are instances. For instance, at a time, elites of the west assured elites of the east that they were prepared to team up with them to move against the feudal north. What happened at the end? The east was betrayed and the west took up the positions vacated by the easterners. You know all about the war that followed.
The Middle Belt can make all the noise it likes but when the chips are down, they know where they belong; they have nothing in common with the west; nothing in common with the east. When the civil war broke out they showed allegiance to the north and fought against Biafra; they are more at home dealing with the north and that is how it has always been.
As you have minorities in the south, so you have them in the north and there is no relationship of any kind between them. The Middle Belters will never work against the interest of the north and that is the truth.
As I said earlier, it is the political manipulations between the elites that breed conflicts and hatred among the people.
Are you blaming the elite for Nigeria’s problems?
Of course! First of all, I blame the system controlling all developments in Nigeria. I blame the socio-economic and political system controlling all developments in Nigeria and the particular political leadership produced by this system. Both the system and the leadership are based on self interest. This system has consistently destroyed the country throughout the history of Nigeria, particularly since 1970. It was public interest that controlled development in Nigeria and that was why we didn’t have political manipulations. Ahmadu Bello was never indifferent to the interest of Nigeria; same as Zik. Zik was even called the Zik of Africa because of his level of patriotism and so on. The Yorubas and the nation will always remember Awolowo. If he didn’t do much about Nigeria, at least he did a lot for the Yorubas. He even brought free and quality education that enabled the Yorubas to take over from the Igbos in political relevance in Nigeria. He never identified himself with such organisations as the Oduduwa, Afenifere or things like that.
Your Excellency, there is tension in the land. How do we douse the tension and bring Nigeria back from the brink so that it does not collapse?
First of all, let us realise that the President wields enormous power. Under the presidential system of government, the president is elected by the people. The problem is with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces who is also the Chief Security Officer of the country and the controller of the resources of the country, both human and material. What powers do you need to correct whatever goes wrong in the country other than this, if you are relevant? Do you want to be God? You are elected; you have the mandate of the people. You are the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces; you are the chief security officer; you are the controller of the resources; what other power do you need? Truth is that we have never had a relevant president; otherwise, we wouldn’t be in this situation. The relevant president that emerged didn’t last; we killed him. That was Murtala Mohammed. For Gowon, God saved him.
They were military leaders…..
Yes, they were. We are talking about both civilian and military. Gowon and Murtala were very patriotic. Besides, without them, we wouldn’t be what we are now.
Are you passing a vote of no confidence on the present leadership of the country?
Definitely, yes! I have said it on many occasions. I was associating with the present leadership around 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2011. Yes, I was associated with the President. But even then, we made it quite clear that since politics and elections are based on money and power, you can never have the right person. But, since we cannot create the right person ourselves, because that is an act of God, we have to do our best using the limited power God has given us. And accordingly, we accepted Buhari, as the least risk and campaigned for him. Unfortunately, we found that he was no better than his predecessors and we are not hiding our feelings about this.
Are you saying his performance has fallen below your expectations?
Of course; it is below the expectation of everybody. Both of us are recovering from ill health and I want to believe that he has used the time in hospital to really reflect on Nigeria so that he can emerge as the Buhari of Africa, which he has never been. But he can be.
You think he still has the opportunity to make things right?
Of course, he still has the opportunity to make things right. He’s still alive. And we hope he will soon come back.
We sincerely pray, because of the situation in the country. Many things are happening and people are talking about restructuring. Do you support the call for restructuring?
Yes! I support restructuring and we made it quite clear, right from the time the talk started. We have been together for 100 years and that means Nigeria has lived for 100 years and you cannot underestimate the sacrifices everybody made within the period. During the 100 years, we achieved something; we also lost something. It is possible we achieved more than we lost and it can be the inverse. Whatever it is, there are so many challenges which make it imperative for us to review our past and present in order to bring about peace, unity, progress and even development.
Restructuring means arranging things differently to bring about more efficiency and more achievements. That is the reason for restructuring. We not only want restructuring simply because now is the time, but also it is the right time for the Igbo man to become the president. What will the Igbos achieve for us? We have had presidents from the North. What have the presidents done for the north? The north is still 40 years backward compared with the South in education and development. We had president from the South West; what did he do for the South-West much more than the ordinary people have been able to do for themselves?
Travel from Lagos to Ibadan through the road and you will see that in spite of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo being the President of Nigeria and a Yoruba, what did he achieve for the Yorubas compared to the other parts of the country? For instance, if you go to Ibadan, will you see anything remarkably different from the underdevelopment you can see in Kano? None! Except you want to deceive yourself. We recently had a president from the most marginalised side of Nigeria — the Niger Delta. What achievement can we see that can be directly related to Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency in the Niger Delta? And if we’re not careful, the same thing would be repeated if we bring about a President of Igbo extraction, no matter how legitimate it is. If we are not careful, we’ll end up with an Igbo President who might even be worse for Igbo land than the ones from Hausa, Yoruba and Ijaw.
You were once quoted as saying that an Igbo man should be the President in 2019? Are you still of that opinion?
Yes, I am still of that opinion and it is right that we have adopted a zoning system. Give every part of Nigeria a sense of belonging. This is right because it will lead to national unity.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have zoned the country for the purpose of holding political offices. In truth, we were opposed to zoning. We said holding political offices should be on merit and so on but after careful thought, we agreed that the PDP zoning system was right and we have all adopted it. It was the zoning system that gave them the presidency for so long; and the west and south-south presidency. The Igbos should be the next, if we are really serious and want to be sensible. What reason should we have for not giving them the opportunity?
You can say they brought about civil war. Let us assume that they did so single- handed. When did the civil war take place? It has been over 40 years since it happened. Is it not time to forgive them? Have they not forgiven the rest of Nigeria? What about Gowon’s era of reconciliation, reconstruction and so on? Are we treating it with levity? So, there is every justification for supporting an Igbo president in 2019; so that we can forget the civil war and give them the chance to prove their mettle.
But then, we have to be very careful. It cannot be just any Igbo man and we must not say they should choose their king. No! We owe it to Nigeria to choose the equivalent of the Zik of Africa from Igbo land; a man we all will be proud of.
You are the national leader of PRP. Do you intend to make an Igbo man your presidential candidate?
That depends on the party, but I can assure you, we’ll do it. However, we are not strong enough to contest for the presidency successfully. But, we are strong enough to go into alliance with others to choose the president of Nigeria. PRP has always done it. Recollect, it is the oldest political party in the history of Nigeria. All other political parties that were created with the PRP in 1950 or 1978 have all faded away; except the PRP.
Now, let me take you back a little bit. You talked about your support for restructuring, and that is one thing that has not been agreed on by the people who are proposing it; nobody has a definite idea of what it should be. What does restructuring mean to you?
The first thing is reconciliation of all Nigerians and it is not impossible. We have an elected president; we have a Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces; we have a chief security officer; we have what the Yorubas call Oga patapata, what the Hausas call SarikiYanka and all these as presidents. He can do anything good to make the country survive.
So, he can bring about the first element of restructuring which is reconciliation between the different peoples of Nigeria. Let them begin to identify Nigeria as their country and feel a sense of relevance in the country.
At the moment, we have different ideas about Nigeria, different wishes for Nigeria. But it is possible to bring about unity in the real sense of it. Unfortunately, the elected President of Nigeria is not capable of doing it. He can bring about reconciliation, so that every Nigerian can have a sense of belonging.
Should the devolution of powers be part of it?
There should be reconciliation before any other consideration. It is not impossible. All Nigerians want national unity, but obviously, some people have been so deprived that they would not want it simply because they have been disadvantaged. Let’s deal with that. We have a powerful “Oga patapata”, “Sariki Yanka”. Igbos may have their own word for it but you know, they are republicans in nature and everybody means something.
The second thing is that experience has proved to us that we don’t need these 36 states and Abuja, because they are not viable. How can you create a government, which cannot provide the basic things that the people need?
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria says the purpose of government is to bring about welfare and security of the people. Are the 36 states doing it? We can’t deceive ourselves; we are not doing it. We need to go back to the original arrangement. At first, we had the three regions — North, East and West. We had done better before bringing in the Mid-West to be the fourth region. Now, we should bring about six regions based on the present zoning system. If we transform Nigeria into a federation of six zones, each will be strong enough to sustain itself like the north, the east, the west and the mid-west did. We would be better off than returning to the original arrangement. Now, let every region create as many local governments and as many states as they like within their resources. There is need for constructive competition among the regions; not the kind of destructive competition that comes through privatisation.
Are you supporting fiscal autonomy?
Listen! The north never afflicted the Federal Government to sustain itself. The west never did; the east never did. They all relied on their own resources. That is the best federalism. Now the fact, which the Nigerian elite don’t talk about, is reconstructing the economy. At the moment, we have an economy based on privatisation and exploitation. Let us restructure the economy in such a way that the states of Nigeria, whether the central or at the regional level, control the economic development in the area. This is the restructuring we want.
The views you canvass are not popular in the north where you come from.
Yes, of course, they can’t be. Is there any legitimate thing that has ever been popular right from the beginning? No! Fight for it and make it popular. That’s what you must do. How can the Nigerian nation, the Nigerian unity be popular when you have people saying that “I’m Igbo; Igbo first and nothing else”; I’m Yoruba; Yoruba first, nothing else”, “I am Hausa; Hausa First, nothing else”.
No! You have to work for it. We are working for true restructuring of Nigeria. We have been campaigning for it; we’ll continue to campaign for it until it succeeds.
The ultimatum issued by the northern youths will soon expire. Is there any reason to be afraid?
No, there would not been any reason to be afraid, if the Federal Government had been responsible enough. The responsibility now is on the Federal Government. It has to bring the regions in line. Already, all the distinguished Nigerians who sacrificed and built Nigeria and are still alive have condemned this ultimatum. All the governors, from north and south, condemned it, too. The Governor of Kaduna made a statement to the extent of asking for their arrest. Many others in Nigeria have done the same thing. The Federal Government has also done the same thing. So, what is left now? It is now for the government to give the cue for everybody to fall in line and make sure that this ultimatum by the youths, who are so underdeveloped; who are 40 years behind their counterparts in the south in education, and development, yet came out with this ultimatum, is dealt with.
Now, the people in the east who are victims of this ultimatum, in spite of the provocation, opposed those who gave these northern youths the excuse to do this. They condemned them. The Federal Government must do something about it. And if this development continues and the Northern youths go ahead with their ultimatum, the same hypocrisy that led to the civil war will continue to play itself out. The federal government will be irresponsible by allowing the situation to fester.
In other words, unless the Federal Government does something now, there is cause for alarm?
Yes, the President should do something. The President is taking care of his health and we hope God will grant him full recovery. But in the meantime, there is Acting President, according to the law. Osinbajo should take the right action. He has disapproved of the agitation in the east which led to this ultimatum and affirmed the unity of Nigeria. Let him go farther in the use of his power as elected President, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, chief security officer and controller of the resources of Nigeria. Let him use that power to deal with these people. So, let Osinbajo really show leadership by identifying and arresting those people. It should be done in such a way that nobody can doubt the legitimacy of his leadership.
At one point in this country, we tried parliamentary democracy………….
No, we never tried democracy, but parliamentary system. What is democracy? We are misusing the word, partially you the media and we the politicians also. Democracy means the supreme will of the people. Do we see the supreme will of the people in anything in Nigeria? Do we? So, let us not talk about democracy; let us talk about civilian rule as opposed to military rule. Obviously, it is an improvement; it is better under normal circumstances that we have a civilian rule, rather than a military. But, if we are threatening this nation, military rule can impose itself as it has always done in the history of Nigeria and in the whole world.
Are you in any way suggesting that the military should take over?
No. But I am saying that it can be inevitable if we continue to destroy ourselves. Let me remind you, the younger ones; you need to be reminded. A senior military officer was once quoted as saying that “the military will not sacrifice its lives for the sake of bloody civilians”. You in the media can find out from your records who said this. When he was asked to explain, he said, “the civilians mess up and we the military are called upon to intervene. In the process we lose our lives for nothing, for the bloody civilians”. If we continue to listen to our depraved young people, the so-called southern leaders, plus the killings in the country, it may get to an extent when the military will be called upon to restore peace, and in the process of restoring peace, which they may never do, will take our lives. The military is telling you, “We would not sacrifice our lives for bloody civilians”.
The cost of governance in Nigeria is high and you were a Governor at a time when it was relatively moderate. Now, how can governors of the present-day be made accountable?
With this level of corruption, stealing and criminal waste of resources; with this issue of the supreme will of private interests, it is not possible to bring the governors to account, except by force.
Did you say by force?
By force, yes! The military can bring them to account. I’m being realistic. The civilians can do the same thing. Because for instance, whatever the military can do, the president of Nigeria can do because he was elected by every Nigerian and he’s the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, the chief of security officer and Controller of the resources of the nation. What can the military man do, which the elected president can’t? So, whatever the military can do, a civilian president can also do, because he has even more powers than the military. You can oppose the military for being undemocratic, but you can’t say the same of an elected president.
Of course, you know the War against Corruption is still raging.
Yes, I know they are fighting the war but corruption is still going on. They are recovering the money and stealing it. Do you have an account of the money they have recovered so far? That is because some people are stealing it.