Senator Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West, PDP), a former national president of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), is the vice-chairman of Northern Senators Forum and chairman of the Senate committee on FCT.
In this interview culled from Daily Trust, Adeyemi blames the military for the stagnation of Nigeria’s socio-economic and political development and appealed to northern governors to concentrate on issues of poverty reduction rather than fighting for 2015.
Nigeria is celebrating 53 years of independence, how has it fared as a nation?
I will want to start by commending the nationalists, those who fought for the independence and liberation of our people. People like the Sardauna of Sokoto, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Awolowo, Aminu Kano and all those foremost nationalists. We have every good reason to commend them for their courage towards getting us liberated from the chains of colonialism after which they did their best to lay a solid socio-economic foundation for their regions but was truncated by the military.
The nationalist started by putting in place the foundation for our political development as a nation. They did their best, Sardauna united the people of the north, he was a premier for all northerners and we were one north. He was not an ethnic champion and even though he was a devoted Muslim he gave room for everybody to practice their religion and that explained why most of those who surrounded him were Christians and he did not make any effort to make them jettison their religions thereby planting the seed of unity. He established many economic programme and projects like the Kainji Dam before the federal government took it over, Jebba paper mills, NNDC, New Nigeria newspapers, those were leaders that were totality committed to the overall development of their people. The same with Obafemi Awolowo and Zik.
In the 60s, Nigeria was at par with countries like Brazil and we were even ahead of some of them. All the regions have universities of their own and we were seen as the future leaders of Africa. This was the vision that was ahead of Nigeria then but in 1966 the worst thing happened to Nigeria, the military came and truncated the vision of these nationalists.
Many of them who came at that time were very young officers whose level of education and exposure was limited but they found themselves in power so they couldn’t manage the resources that was available and they couldn’t equally carry on with the vision of the nationalists and the worst thing that happened was that, we had these issue of sentiments that tend to divide us because under the military there was pronouncement of the state where you come from, your tribe and even religion given priority. The good news is that we are back to democratic government in the last 14 years and I hold the view that no matter how anybody will assess the democratic dispensation, there is no doubt that it is far better than military era.
At 53 we shouldn’t be taking about federal character because the Sardauna is no longer available who will not look at your tribe or position before giving you appointment. We’re talking about federal character now because today we have people in power who see themselves as representatives of their own communities or tribes. I come from the northern region and I have studied the style of leadership and administration of the Sardauna of Sokoto and I discovered that he carried every part of the northern region along. Those of us who were from parts of Kwara and Kogi had a fair share of his government’s largesse so nobody complained. In Kabba we had the College of agriculture which he established in 1963 but up to today it has not been upgraded to a degree awarding institution 50 years after.
But some of your colleagues who were once in uniform have blamed the politicians for the state of the nation, what is your reaction?
When you asses an already built house and when an expert tells you that the house is not well built then you will now have to doubt the competence of those who built those structures. It is saying in essence that the foundation is faulty. The military came at the very foundation of our nation so they gave us a bad foundation and that is why some people are still calling for national conference today because of the failure, maladministration and misplacement of priority and the inexplicable institutionalization of corruption in the country by the military. The states structures that we have today were created under the military and were created on the basis of compensating some of the boys in uniform.
The 1999 constitution as handed over to us by the military is faulty so much that it is even difficult to amend. When you start the amendment you discover so many problems. For example, we are talking about local government autonomy the military did a good thing by creating the third tier of government but they equally didn’t put it in the constitution that they should have direct funding. Now they are left in the hands of the states. About three years ago I said it was equally wrong for us to have a bicameral system of government because it is very expensive to run. The military government put so many things in place to make governance very difficult for us.
Do you still hold that view?
I hold the view that we don’t need a bicameral legislature because it is expensive but how do you correct that when everything must go through democratic process? Can you ask people to vote against a situation where they have to go home? That is the question, I am ready to leave my seat if its okayed.
I am ready to leave my seat if leaving as a Senator will make Nigeria to move faster and be more peaceful and improve the welfare of Nigerians I am ready to leave my seat.
For a developing nation like Nigeria we do not have to copy American system of governance hook line and sinker, it must be based on the resources available to us. The bicameral system of legislature that we have is too expensive. But again, we need to equally appreciate the fact that there is the need to carry every section of this country along.
There is this agitation that power should return to the North while some are saying President Jonathan is qualified to contest. Do you see the agitation as justified?
To me, that is for Mr. President to decide. The north has the right to ask for power to shift back or to rotate to north. But let us also take into consideration that nobody knew that Yar’adua would die. So God brought Goodluck. I see Good luck as a man of covenant, when they say in Islam, ‘Kaddaral Allahu hakkan Kadarihi’ when God does certain things, is beyond man to change. So I see him as a man who is empowered by divine Hands of God.
Like you rightly said, he has a right to contest. Let us wait until we hear the final pronouncement of Mr. President that yes I am going to run. But what I would tell my brothers in the north and governors is that it is too early to start this fight, I want to look at the situation where the northern governors can start a fight for more resources to bail the region from poverty. I want to look at a situation where the north will agitate for the rehabilitation of the northeast. I want to support the reconstruction of the Northeast, let them vote money for that. Because after the civil war of 1957, we had a reconstruction program. If it is that, the agitation is classical. But for governors to start agitation for power, at whose expense is the cost for traveling?
Now they leave the duty post, at whose expense? For me there are more challenging problems. President Jonathan is yet to even make pronouncement. So why don’t we allow him to make pronouncement before we start asking him questions.
Let the governors look at the overhead, the income per capita as it affects the people. Let look at how to graduate the people from the abject poverty. About two years ago, the former governor of Central Bank, Mr Soludo, said 70 percent of Nigerians are poor. Majority of them are in northern region. That to me is a major issue to attract the attention of the governors to examine. The moment you come in to Kwara, from the Lagos end, or you come in from the Southeast, you see poverty graduating.
So I think the governors need to concentrate on issues of poverty and providing job opportunities.
You talk about power, is it when you have power that determines what you do, to solve all your problems?
Because we have been in power for 30 years and we are paying for the period we have been in power. For 30 years, power has been in the north, yet poverty is seen as high as it is. This is the time to say let us woo the man who is in power, who is not from our region to do this for us.