NIGERIANS SHOULD FOLLOW THE CONSTITUTION IN DEALING WITH BUHARI’S ABSENCE- ELDER STATESMAN, AHMED JODA

Over 90 days of president’s absence: Nigeria should apply constitution in Buhari’s case – Joda
Joda: ‘I get sleepless nights from ongoing hate speeches’

We are at a point in our history where the drums of secession are being beaten. You were a permanent secretary during the civil war, how do you compare the situation that degenerated into the civil war then with what we are having now?

Since the British established Nigeria and we became independent, we have not been out of crisis. During the negotiations a lot happened. There were three regions, which were very powerful but still there was a center strong enough designed to ensure the common and continued existence of Nigeria as one country.

Hence issues like security and defence were central. It also listed a number of issues like foreign affairs and communication, transport and inland water ways and mineral resources which are to be under the direct control of the central government but important subjects like agriculture, health, education water supply; those things that are close to the people were subject to regional or state authority. There are some which are on the concurrent list which every state can control and legislate upon.

I was a permanent secretary in the ministry of education once and the federal government established secondary schools which we now call Unity Schools.

The federal government is not supposed to be involved in the provision of medical and education services except at the highest level but they were allowed to enter to observe the state laws for the provision of these services. The only reason for that intervention is to create a basis for Nigeria’s unity.

Getting people from wherever they come from to be educated from the age of 12 and thereafter go to federal institutions and later the NYSC was for Nigerians to further integrate, that was the motive. I think we are still operating that kind of constitution but the states for some reasons, chose not to exercise those duties and allowed and even invited the federal government to dominate in these services.

So even if you rewrite the constitution and the people who are in government decide to be irresponsible and not discharge their responsibilities to those that elected them and want to find a scapegoat, they will do so.

Take the police for instance, under our first constitution, it was shared between the federal government, the Nigeria police and the local government police, at that time called the Native Authority Police.

The Native Authority Police that we had until 1966 was a force for oppression. First, they were completely illiterate and were very poorly trained and they were tools in the hands of the emergent political class.

If you were there in the 1950s or early 1960s, you will know that you cannot be an opposition party member and go and campaign in places like Kano or Ibadan.

In Yorubaland, they called them Olopa and in Northern Nigeria they were called Yandoka. They will arrest you, take you to an Alkali court, convict you within the same hour and send you to prison so that you cannot contest election against their opponents and they were corrupt.

The Nigeria Police then was small, 10,000 people but they were efficient, neat, disciplined and commanded respect.

I was one of the officials who wrote to suggest the centralization of the police. Later the police became centralized and people were happy but unfortunately the Nigeria Police did not maintain its image; it became as bad as or even worse than the Native Authority Police. I’m not sure if I’m asked now what clear answer I can give but I have no doubt in my mind the police must be totally restructured and rehabilitated.

I think we have to consider creating another force whether at the state or local government level but I will prefer it at the local government level. It is my personal conviction that dictatorship is easier at the state levels rather than at the federal level because at the federal level, every action of the president is open to the public. The Nigerian and the international press report everything that happens and that serves as a restraint but a governor in a state can do anything including murder and nobody reports it. Both the press and the public are not interested as all attention is focused on the federal government.

You were the chairman of President Buhari’s transition committee in 2015, was the restructuring of the Nigeria Police part of the areas you recommended to the president-elect then?

We couldn’t deal with the issue of the Nigeria Police because it wasn’t specifically listed in our terms of reference. We made attempts to address the issue but it was resisted.

Where did the resistance come from? 

From all sorts of forces and we had no time. We were not appointed on time and when we were appointed we were given three weeks to complete the assignment. I went to President Buhari and said, ‘Sir, this is impossible we need more time than you are allowing us.’ He said, ‘Okay, go ahead and see how long it takes you.’

The first term of reference for the transition committee was to receive the handover notes from the outgoing administration to study issues arising out of them and do so and so.

So we were in the hands of the outgoing PDP government. The chairman of their transition committee was the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, and the secretary was the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim. They said they would give us the handover note in 30 days’ time but that would have been after our term had expired. We said, ‘No, please sir, why not break it up so that you’ll keep sending the notes as we adjust our timetable and consider them as we receive each.’ They said, ‘No, we want to do a neat job.’

We finally received the report two days before inauguration; it had 10,000 pages, so we broke it up into seven, set up committees to look at these issues on the lines they have established.

On the aspect of the police, it was stated bluntly that not long ago a committee of the Inspector General of police had met and submitted a report to the government and stated that we should get that report and consider but we had no time to do that.

But if you ask me what to do with the police now, I would say if it were possible, disband the entire force and start a new one. I had suggested that to President Obasanjo in 1999 but even then I told him that it was not possible and it would take a president who is mad to say he’s disbanding the Nigeria Police, so that is not an option. I’m not a policeman, I’ve never had any police training but from my own gut feeling, a process should be introduced that winds down the existing police and create a new one. My argument is that every single policeman in the Nigeria Police has been trained and has worked under conditions that did not allow them to become good professional police and I thought that to have a good professional policeman, you have to start from the beginning, how you recruit the people. The British, for instance, did not just pick people who have left primary schools, they investigated their background, what were they likely to be and so on because it was not just a matter of marching and firing guns, it was dealing with people.

I suggested the training colleges and the Police Academy in Wudil be converted to the status of universities to train the Nigeria Police for the profession of policing Nigeria. The police colleges should be taken from the Nigeria Police and the recruitment process completely separated, but the police should be obliged to pick only products of those institutions and subject them to the training of the police and psychology of dealing with the public. Through that the local government police or state police or Nigeria Police can all have one institution that is centrally controlled to train.

Because no matter how many states we create, there would be different tribes and they would all be competing. There will always be that conflict. That is why I want policing influence in every part of Nigeria so that the Igbo or Yoruba man living and working in Kano, for instance, has a chance to be protected.

Do the hate speeches, the quit notice issued to Igbos living in Northern Nigeria and calls for restructuring give you sleepless nights? 

It gives me sleepless nights, it keeps me thinking, but what worries me most is the seeming lack of seriousness in the debate. I have not seen anybody who is talking about restructuring either for or against who has articulated the way Nigeria should be restructured. Everybody is just saying restructure or true federalism but nobody has come to say how we can achieve that.

When we became independent, we were three regions, in 1963 we created a fourth region called, Midwest; we thought we had solved the problem but no, people said we had to have states so we created 12, they said it was not enough, we created 19, we are now 36 and there are demands for more than 100 currently. At the same time, people are complaining that the centre is too powerful and becoming dictatorial so we must do something.

If you break Nigeria into 100 pieces, in a situation where 36 states cannot pay their salaries and wages and cannot raise enough income to create developments in their states, you create more problems.

Today the only viable state in Nigeria is Lagos and this is because Lagos is largely an island on which is concentrated all the institutes that generate income, the ports, the international airport, the financial hub, the banks and financial institutions, the insurance companies and professional services. Lagos has more than a thousand hotels, people are going there and spending money and the government is collecting taxes so they can afford to be comfortable and independent more than any other country in Africa. All the industries in Nigeria have moved to Lagos.

The other ones should be Rivers and Bayelsa because of the oil.

I know as a federal official from beginning of time that these people get more allocation because of their oil situation, but where is the money? It goes to a handful of people who have their houses and investments in Lagos and Port-Harcourt.

When I was chairman of the NLNG, I took a tour round the area and filed my report which I gave to the federal and state governments. I told them that unless you do something about this it is going to erupt in violence that cannot be contained. It is the same problem that has developed into MOSOP and Ogoni.

I sympathize with them, they see people becoming rich while they remain stagnant and their environment is being destroyed.

What is your view on how the civil service is currently being run, especially how the permanent secretaries are being appointed? 

I believe the system of appointing permanent secretaries should be like what was obtainable in my days. The system is you rise from the service whether it is federal or state, you are recruited and trained, you serve in various sectors of government and you reach a position and there was order. Everybody is graded, your date of appointment, date of promotion, your annual report, etc. are known so by the time a vacancy occurs for the position of a permanent secretary, there usually are two or three or four people eligible. It is the function of the Head of Service to raise the issue with the Civil Service Commission and present the eligible candidate from within the service specifying the date of appointment.

They may all have the same educational qualification and may have worked in various places so the report will indicate their shortcomings and strength. It is from here that recommendation is made to the head of government to say so and so has either been removed or had died and needed to be replaced and this is the list of people eligible. And he is at liberty to pick from the list or can even say, ‘I don’t like any of them’ but you can insist and say, ‘Your Excellency, these are our best’ and so on.’

Unfortunately, though the system still provides for that, now people are watching and as soon as any permanent secretary is retiring, people present their own candidates even those outside the service and lobby for them and sometimes such people get such appointments.

No matter how good the person may be, he will not easily fit into that system and if you continue to do that, you are destroying the morale of the public servants. Somebody who has worked for 20 something or 30 years and is looking forward to step by step promotion to reach to the highest level and suddenly you come and bring somebody from outside, how would the rest feel? It is not just those who are competing for the position but even the rest of the service, people will begin to ask what am I going to do.

If the president, in choosing his team, appoints the Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Army Staff and other service chiefs without proper consideration and shows preference for a particular officer no matter the rank, the senior and good ones who have been campaigning for the position and have to be removed so the man can stamp his authority, will feel bad. That person can only defend the interest of the people that appointed him there, not Nigeria. And I think it is bad for the country, so if we have to reform ourselves, we have to return the control of the civil service and the services to an independent body recognized by the constitution of Nigeria and in the case of the civil service is the Civil Service Commission to properly evaluate people.

If you’re concerned about the question of loyalty of the service chiefs, once you become either the Chief of Army Staff or the Inspector General of Police or Comptroller General of Immigration, you cannot afford not to be loyal to the president who appointed you because you are now in the same boat. Those who want to sabotage the government know that for them to succeed they must remove the service chiefs to be comfortable.

If there’s a coup, the first set of people they remove are the generals and heads of services.

I was part of a team to President Shagari and we advised him not to retire the professionals in service as they were in the same boat as him. We told him they had no alternative but to serve him. I was able to tell him that because I was the chairman of his transition committee from Obasanjo. But what happened? They overthrew Shagari and all those people were posted out. So it’s in us. When I was the chairman of the transition committee people thought I could remove people so they come and tell me that the Central Bank governor is not good, remove him. I tell them look I don’t know the content of his job, I don’t know him or how far he can perform, so how do I begin to investigate him? Or people coming to tell me to that so and so person is a suitable replacement.

Some came all the way from Imo, saying ‘This and this and that person be removed and that this person here, this is his CV, he is very good.’ So I said, ‘Look, I’ve never met you, the persons you are recommending, I equally don’t know. The piece of paper you brought tells me you’ve been to the university and you have studied so and so. How can I responsibly recommend you? And they wanted to convince me so I left them and went to my bedroom.

Was it like that during your time in the service? 

It was starting to happen but it was minimal. I was working in the Ministry of Information as permanent secretary and a parliamentary secretary came and told my minister that a driver should be promoted. So the minster called me and said, ‘Malam, please promote this and this persons because my friend recommended them.’ I said, ‘Minister, in the first place I don’t know these people, if they are to be promoted, it is not my duty as a permanent secretary to initiate that process. I have a head of department who, when there are opportunities for promotion, processes the paper before it comes to me. And the appointment is that of the Civil Service Commission and not the ministry. All I do is to recommend. If these people meet the condition when the time comes, they will be given the promotion.’ So he reported to the other minister who said, ‘No, you are being ruled by your perm sec. Go and instruct him to do it.’ So he called me and I said ‘No, minister, I’m sorry, I can’t do that.

So we travelled to a conference in Lagos and the Sardauna was going to Ilorin to commission a new electricity system. So we stayed at a guest house and these drivers were at that place and at about midnight, they knocked at his gate and said they had an issue they wanted solved. So he told them: ‘Issues like these should go to the permanent secretary and that is his room.’ But they told him ‘No, we cannot go to the permanent secretary because this man got his job because he is qualified but you….’ I didn’t know what happened but as we drove back to Lagos and after driving for a long time he said, ‘There is something I want to tell you.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘You know these two drivers? This is what they did to me; you people know what you’re doing.’ It means if we follow the proper procedure we won’t be in the positions we find ourselves.

The purge of the civil service during the Murtala administration was said to have contributed to the rot in the service. What actually happened and how would you react to that? 

I think it contributed a lot to the destruction of the system. It may not have been the intention of Murtala . At the end of the civil war, I was part of a group which articulated a programme for the return to civil rule. In that presentation, we highlighted the fact that the military had accomplished its main objective of restoring the unity of Nigeria and the people of Nigeria do appreciate that. We said, however, that if the military prolonged its continued stay in governance, it would become unpopular and this could lead to longtime instability and the recommendation was that Nigeria be returned to civil government latest by 1st October, 1973.

We drew up a programme. One, it will change those who have served and had become very unpopular. Secondly, it will eliminate the possibility of the military becoming too involved and too ambitious to hold political positions. Thirdly, it will give politicians time and confidence. We wanted to avoid the collapse of the military and hasten the return to civil rule but we suggested that in order to restore credibility that the military and the civil service and police should be investigated and all those found to have compromised be weeded and fresh appointments be made with the injection of civilians with potential leadership qualities to be groomed to be the next generation of politicians.

It was an 8-point programme submitted to General Gowon and I believe this document became available to Murtala.

When they came in and looked at this thing, they said, ‘The government should constitute committees to recommend those to be retired or to be dismissed.’ Also, I was part of the committee and we met 24 hours in a day for about five days, to compile this list and recommend the removal of about 270 persons. Certainly, less than 300 but the people dismissed and retired were over 3000.

Obviously, it didn’t come from the committee they set up and they made a lot of mistakes but Murtala was a fair and just leader. On several issues, he would phone me personally and say, ‘Look at the case of so and so, we made a mistake, please do something to correct it.  He called me at least four times on such issues and I believe Obasanjo was of the same mind because I had occasions to discuss with him.

From the conversation that occurred between me and General Danjuma, who retired as Chief of Army Staff, it was obvious something went wrong. When I told him the process we went and the number of people we recommended, he was dumbfounded and shocked, which meant that somewhere along the line unknown to the army hierarchy some people had inserted their own names and decimated the civil service.

One of the cases that Murtala asked me to intervene in was a man known to be unkempt while working in the service. He was not cheerful but was a first class performer.

So, I invited him, when he came to my office he looked different as he was clean shaven, looking smart and was smiling with a lot of confidence. I said, ‘Peter, look I am conveying to you a message from the Head of State and want to offer you a job as managing director of the Warri Steel Plant.’ He got up, bowed and said, ‘Thank you very much. I always knew you are good, but as exciting as the job you are offering me is, I can’t accept it and I can’t understand why you are here.’ I said, ‘What do you mean by that?’

He says when they sacked him, he was offered a job that same night and nothing anybody in the civil service receives compared to what he got. He promised me that whenever I’m building a house he will send all the building materials to me. These were the kinds of people they got rid of because somebody else wanted their jobs and deprived Nigerians of good civil servants, soldiers and policemen.

When you’re a Head of State, you can only bark orders from above, you are not in control of checking what is happening, that is how the civil service became very slow.

How did the herdsmen come to acquire a very bad image across the country? 

My short answer is that the government, states and federal, the Nigerian Police, and judiciary working together had turned them into criminals, armed robbers and kidnappers and to some extent the Nigerian press.

There have been pastoralists in Nigeria for as long as the country existed, mainly in the North. Since about 1930, the Emir of Katsina realized that unless something was done there was going to be a crisis between herding communities and farmers as well as other people, so he and his council established reserved areas of grazing and paths to take to reach the reserves. This spread to other parts of Northern Nigerian until the early 1960s when Sardauna’s government decided to establish grazing reserves and stock route to ensure there was no friction between farmers and herders. In doing that, they created routes where the cattle would follow to find grass and water and for the farmers to farm unmolested. Nevertheless, there were minor frictions but they put in place processes to resolve the situation promptly at the village level and if necessary, the chieftaincy level. First, they established friendship between the farmers and the herdsmen because the herdsmen wait for the farmers to harvest their crops and then they are invited to come in to eat the stubble and in so doing provide fertilization.

After the creation of states in 1967, those reserves were encroached upon with no control and in the meantime the population of Nigeria was growing. In the early 1950s, all of Nigeria was 32 million, now the population is being estimated by the UN as 192 million, an increase of over 160 million, which means our towns and cities have grown about five times. We have constructed roads, built industries, more houses, airports, and all these are taking away from the landmass, forests and grazing reserves and the herdsmen have nowhere to go without damaging somebody’s crops and farms or property. Now, when you damage somebody’s crops, the Nigerian policeman arrests you when reported but demands money, you pay and they let you go. They arrest the Fulani man because a cow is a ready cash, he sells it and gives the money to police, the farmer gets nothing, so next time, the farmer does not report to the police if the cattle damages his farm he cuts you to pieces and the Fulani arranges to retaliate. If the matter goes to the Magistrate, they demand money, they don’t adjudicate. So they don’t go to the police or judiciary, they fight. Now the press, reports this as herdsmen invasion. No Nigerian newspaper investigates what happened.

Benue and Taraba states have enacted laws demanding herders to ranch, will that solve the perennial problem of herders/farmers clashes?

The Fulani have no land and have been wandering all around and they thought they were free to roam all over the country. I circulated a memoranda 12 years ago to every government and security agency to say, ‘Look, the way to solve these problems is to carve out lands and say this is where the Fulani can go and graze their cattle and this is how they are going to pay for it. Before you establish the laws that restrict the movement of livestock, copy how other countries have dealt with the issues but not how one state government has done it.’

The only thing I know is that Dasuki, when he was the National Security Adviser, called a conference in Kaduna where they spent one day discussing but the situation as predicted 10 years ago has continued.

The Fulani herdsman has been identified and stamped in the court of public opinion as a highway robber, kidnapper, rustler, but what made him so?

One thing you will not like to discuss is the fact that the police are involved in the rustling but nobody is paying attention. Like Boko Haram, how did it become the menace it has come to be? The police knew it’s a dangerous organization but they did nothing about it.

The president has been away for nearly 100 days, there have been agitations and protests. How do you think the situation can be handled in the best interest of the country? 

Nigeria has a constitution and the constitution provides in details how we deal with a situation like this and we should go and deal with it as stipulated in the constitution.

Related posts