Restructuring: Northern governors didn’t speak for the North—Junaid Mohammed

Dr Junaid Mohammed

  • Explains why Igbo cant be president

Unlike many politicians who speak from both sides of their mouths, Dr Junaid Mohammed is blunt, down-to-earth but unrepentantly committed to the interest of the North. In this interview, he takes a caustic swipe at Yoruba leaders who are clamouring for restructuring as well as Igbo separatist agitators.   

In view of the current separatist agitations, how do you think Nigeria can achieve unity among its constituent units?

I have been part and parcel of cataclysm of Nigerian history.  Let me tell you, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this country. No human society can live without challenge. Nigeria like any other countries has its own challenges. The difference between us and advanced democracies of the world is the attitude of the elite. An average member of the Nigerian elite is an irresponsible person. Many of the problems, which are being dragged are not problems at all or they are problems, which could have been resolved outside the pages of newspapers. Once people believe that they can abuse to get their ways into power, then we have a very serious problem. The thumb card of average Nigerian elite is to abuse and demonise the other person. If you go through history, you will find out that anywhere nations have emerged and surmounted their challenges, they have been able to do so by getting the elite together because the common people don’t have problems. Whatever problems we have are elite-driven, elite-induced. Without emerging elite with political consensus, there will be no unity in this country. And whatever wars we fight, we will only fight them again and again. And that is tragic because it shows we are unable to learn from our history. If you don’t learn from history, you are condemned to repeat it over and over again. And that is very unfortunate. If everybody’s claim of marginalization is true and genuine, then nobody is being marginalized. As I am talking to you today, I know quite a number of people from all parts of the country who believe they are being marginalized. Before you talk of marginalization, why don’t you talk about building the economy and creating jobs for our teeming graduates? If we believe we can always achieve our ends through propaganda, we are not going to get out of the current crisis. There must be some margins where some people are better off somewhere and some people are worse off somewhere. But on the whole, I don’t believe in the issue of marginalization as it is being touted by the elite.

The truth is that our economy is a small economy. We have to enlarge the economy to create jobs for the people who are coming out of the university because a jobless graduate is a very dangerous person. Everybody now knows that there is graduate unemployment even in places like Sokoto or Borno, which used to be educationally disadvantaged. Today, there is graduate unemployment in those states. These are issues we have to discuss among ourselves. But most public commentators don’t offer solutions to some of these problems, they only abuse, insult and demonise other people. And we are likely to see more abuse and demonization, if we continue this way.

I am not one of those who believe Nigeria cannot break. Nigeria can break. But I also believe that every Black man on this planet will be greatly diminished, if Nigeria breaks up because it is the biggest black nation in the world. Nigeria’s failure is the failure of the Black man.

Some five Northern governors recently expressed support for restructuring while at the same time advocating a strong centre. Is that not a contradiction?

First, I don’t speak for any governor. And as a politician, I have nothing but contempt for all Nigerian governors. If you think those so-called Northern governors speak for the North, you are deceiving yourself.  When the chips are down, those who speak for the North will emerge. I believe no governor speaks for the North. If you think they speak for the North, why don’t you say the governors in the South-south speak for their geo-political zone?  Why must you say it is the Northern governors who speak for the North? As far as I am concerned, I am prepared to engage in the debate on restructuring only if those who are clamouring and agitating for it can tell us what it is they want by restructuring and they define it so that somebody like me can understand. I am not prepared to engage in a discussion with people who are fundamentally dishonourable and dishonest.

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From the way you spoke, your own restructuring means that there is going to be more powers to the states and local governments and fewer powers to the central government. But let me tell you, I was involved in drafting the 1979 Constitution.  I was also involved in practical terms in the running of the constitution and I knew that some of the powers that were ceded to the states and local governments had to be recovered because they could not perform. Primary healthcare and primary education were completely ceded to the local governments. None of the states in the federation could meaningfully manage primary healthcare. I do not believe that imminent collapse of primary health care and education is something that should be ignored by any responsible government. The states have failed till today to manage water supply in their respective states.

Again, in principle, the Federal Government has nothing to do with agriculture. But tell me which states in Nigeria today can boast of supply of inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and other implements to their farmers. So, we have to be very careful about outright condemnation of people whom you haven’t heard. As I am talking to you now, no state government pays regular salaries to the workers, no local government does so and you are telling us that more powers should be given to the states in the name of restructuring. From 1979, they could not handle the powers conceded to them. So, you can see the pervasive elite irresponsibility.

If you are talking of the 1963, Constitution which is now the vogue in Lagos, I was alive and politically mature and I come from a highly placed political family, the clamour to remove it came from the South-west. They said it was unworkable, the regions were too powerful, the Federal Government was too emasculated and that regions were unequal and asymmetrical. After the 1966 coup by the Igbos before the commencement of the civil war, the same agitation was brought to the fore. They insisted that we must split the regions. The Northerners conceded only in the interest of unity to have their region split into six, and the South also split into six. Now, having gone round, thinking they could manipulate the North which they consider educationally challenged and failed, they are now coming back to bring back the 1963 agitation. Who is fooling who? Do they think we have no history or we are all idiots?

Even within the South-east, are you telling me that the five Igbo states all want Biafra? The Governors of Abia, Imo and Anambra states have said it that they will not be part of Biafra. So, who the hell are we talking about? Again, if you want to merge the six states in the South-west to a region, the first thing you have to decide is where you are going to have the capital because Lagos has never been part of the deal from the days of the colonial masters. And in 1963 when three states were created from the South-west, what they did was to exorcise Ikeja province and merged it with Lagos so that Lagos could be a viable state. So, even if you are going to merge all the states, you have to exorcise Ikeja province and merge it with South-west. There is also an additional complication arising from the Mid-west embracing Edo and Delta states. If you now want to re-merge the western states, you also have to take out Edo and Delta states and merge them with South-west. Unless you want a total war, I don’t see how you can merge Edo and Delta states with South-west and say they should go to Ibadan as their capital.

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Now, the Igbo are clamouring for an additional state, one of the reasons they are now talking about Biafra, even though the real reason is that they want to blackmail the North, to concede presidency to them. By this means, they will never get any hope for presidency because democracy is a game of numbers. You cannot tell people to vote for you because you are being irresponsible. You caused the civil war that claimed over one million people, you will now come back and demand as a right that you must have a president. Is it democracy they are talking about or secession? We have to be very careful. We know the history of those who are making agitations in Lagos. At first, they told the Igbo: “Go. When you go, we would go. The Igbo left. You know what happened? They took over all Igbo premises, all Igbo businesses, Igbo bank accounts. If Igbo are not stupid, will they like to go and do the same thing again? It was MKO Abiola who said that if you volunteer your head for some people to break coconut, you will not be alive to eat the coconut. The Biafra side lost about one million people and all the destructions. If the IPOB people want to try it again, I challenge them to try it. If they don’t try it, they are bastards. Let’s see what happens.

What precisely does the North in the present circumstance?

The North will like to have an ongoing dialogue which involves give and take. Everybody brings his complaints to the table, we discuss and decide what we can do. But the North, will never succumb to blackmail. Don’t forget, the North constitutes 70 percent of the total landmass, and 65 percent of the total population of Nigeria. In a democracy, how do you think you can determine the destiny of our people without the majority? How do you do it? When former president Goodluck Jonathan organized the last constitutional conference in which I represented Kano State, because he wanted to use it for politics, he made sure that the composition was skewed. He stuffed the place with people who did not represent anybody. Some of the organizations that were given representation did not represent anybody. When we left, they went and rigged the conclusion we agreed on. We said bring the conclusion and tell us where we agreed to state police. People don’t even know their history.

I grew up in the North, which used to have Native Authority. When people from South-west could not come to the North to campaign during election, is that democracy? It was the incisive statement, which Chief S.L Akintola made in 1962 that led to Kano riot. And unfortunately because Igbo were noise makers, most of them were killed. But the man who made the statement was Akintola.

Whatever you say about the people who are making agitations, they are nothing but opportunists. They have the opportunity to challenge the government because the government itself is weak. It is a government that soiled its hand very early when it came to power by appointing relations, friends and in-laws into positions. It was a very serious mistake.

No Nigerian government has done as bad as this government in that area. Almost all the appointments were not based on merit. They were made based on nepotism. That is why we’re now reaping the problems. Any president that does that especially now that eyes are open should expect these kinds of problems and those problems are going to dog him (President Muhammadu Buhari) until his last day in office. Whatever you say about Nigerians, they know their rights and they can make noise. And in a democracy, you cannot start taking people and put them in prison because it is their right to express their views. I am not saying this because the head of state is a Northerner. I don’t bloody care! What is just is just. That is the way I express my views.

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Arguments have been raised about the North’s fixation on the unity of the country. Is this not all because of oil?

I don’t speak on behalf of the North. In my entire career as a politician and public intellectual, I have never told anyone that I was speaking on behalf of the North.  I don’t speak on behalf of the North. If the Northerners are stupid to let go whatever it is, it is their business. Besides, if you have any knowledge about the current economic situation worldwide, you find out that the West appears to be the biggest consumer of oil. And it will interest you also to know that Chinese, India and South-east Asia are now turning from diesel and petrol cars to electric cars. In fact, some of them are going to be self driven.


You can sit somewhere and just programme a car and it will take you to wherever you want without touching the steering. So, the oil itself is a wasting asset. It is not a renewable source of energy. Already, there is surplus oil in the international market. So, anybody who believes he can rely on oil or gas is deceiving himself. Besides, our own oil is very expensive to explore. Sometimes the oil we get in Kano is not from Nigeria, it is the oil we import from Niger. Once you have money to pay, you get what you want. Oil resource is a temporary advantage. Someday, forces of technology, economy and market will transform that advantage to something else. So, if you are not looking at what will happen to you in the next 20, 30 years, you are finished.

What form of dialogue are you suggesting here?

That is why we say we have had this dialogue too many. Why don’t we find a way of making it less formal? Let’s see leaders who have voices in certain areas. Let’s put them together in hotel rooms or conference room to look at the problems of the country. Let us look at the most productive and cost effective way of holding a national dialogue and make it informal in the sense that whatever they agree on is not bidding on anybody. The only way they can get people to subscribe to it is by getting people to agree that it makes sense. What gives you impression that some Yoruba people in Afenifere can take a decision in the moon or wherever they like and bring it to Kano and say we must listen to it? Let them go to hell. In fact, some of them dare not come to Kano because we know their careers.

They spend a whole lifetime abusing people, calling people monkey.

If I were a Southern politician, I would have told my fellow southerners, you have been underestimating these so-called Northerners, saying they are not educated, they are Mumu, and yet from 1914 till date, you have not won a single battle against them, why don’t you try another path instead of abusing. You use media in Lagos to abuse people left, right and centre. Continue your abuse on the pages of newspapers and let’s see how far you can go.

How would you give legitimacy to whatever that is agreed upon from your proposed dialogue?

Can there be any legitimacy outside the legal norms? If we agree on something, then we go to the National Assembly and say these are the things we want; we want you to commence tinkering with the constitution to accommodate these decisions. Legitimacy has to be within the confine of the law. If you don’t have the rule of law, you don’t have democracy. We will not be a part of anything that is extra judicial or extra constitutional.

Source: The Sun