Kaduna-based Islamic Scholar, Sheikh (Dr.) Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, did a retrospective assessment of Nigeria at 56 and blamed the military, his former constituency, for the nation’s woes. The retired army officer also took a swipe at President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against corruption in this interview with IBRAHEEM MUSA
Recently, Nigeria celebrated its 56th year of nationhood which coincided with your birthday. Could you assess the journey so far?
Nigeria has passed through good and bad times. The good time was the First Republic, when we got independence from our colonial masters on October 1, 1960, the same day that I was born. That was a very good milestone for Nigeria because the country was manned by capable and good leaders who took over the mantle of leadership from the white men.
But because of religious, regional and tribal differences, the government was overthrown in a military coup which interfered in the political life of the nation. This is a problem which we are yet to recover from up till today because it fragmented the nation. The coup led to a counter coup and then a civil war.
This has sown turbulence in the polity, resulting into so many communal clashes and so many deaths even after the war. These have resulted in political upheavals in the country. And whenever there are political upheavals and instability, they will lead to an economic down turn because the modern economy thrives on stability.
As a result of all these, Nigeria is not economically buoyant and dependent as it should be. Our agriculture and education sectors have remained undeveloped and so we are back to square one.
But some people are of the opinion that the country has indeed made progress because at independence, the North had just a few university graduates and even secondary schools but now, they are in the thousands. Likewise, the resources that are accruing to the nation now are very vast unlike before. In the light of these, don’t you think that the country has made some progress?
Like I said earlier, Nigeria has experienced both good and bad times. We have made progress in some areas and education is one of them. But you see, you can do good but that doesn’t mean that you have attained your best. There is a lot of room for us to be the best but we have not done our best at all, even though there is some progress in the education sector.
But when you compare with the large percentage growth in terms of the population, you will even find out that the progress is minimal. I remember a doctor was telling that for over 10 years, he was the only gynecologists in the state. So, if you look at the situation in that light, you will find out that we have not made the desired progress.
So, we need to do more. No Nigerian university is among the first 1000 universities in the world. So, we are not doing our best even in the education sector that you said we have made some progress.
So, where does the problem lie? Some people say it is with the leaders and others say that the people get the kind of leaders that befit them. Is the problem with the people or with the leaders?
Both! Both have problems but the bulk of it lies with the leaders. If you gave a herdsman cattle to rear in the bush and they went astray or got lost, it is the herdsman that is at fault. Or do you blame the cattle? So, you don’t blame people; leaders are supposed to direct people on what to do. So, this leadership is what we lack.
But what you have just said is contrary to popular Islamic belief, which says that Allah will not give people a good leader until they change their ways. In other words, the leadership is a reflection of the followership. Correct me if I am wrong but this is incompatible with what you said.
No, there are differences. When people are bad, they will have bad leaders that lead them astray. But then, at intervals, God intervenes and sends good leaders.
If they are good people, they will follow the good leaders and change their ways. But if they are bad people, they will revolt against the good leaders and they will continue with their old ways. And Allah will ultimately destroy them the way Pharaoh was destroyed.
During Jahilliyya, Meccan pagans, the Qureysh, rejected him when Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was sent to them. A few accepted him and Allah gave the Prophet (SAW) victory over the rest. Even when the colonial masters came here, Allah gave them victory over us because of our nature.
In the last 56 years, we have had both civilian and military leaders. In your view, who was the best leader that Nigeria ever had?
The incursion of the military into politics is what destroyed Nigeria up till today.
What do you mean by up till today? Do you mean that we don’t have a civilian government in place?
No, we still have a military man at the helm of affairs. The military have been the same clique that has been running Nigeria. They just remove their uniforms and continue calling the shots. I don’t want to mention names. The military are those who are behind the emergence of civilian leaders that we have.
But what is wrong if they retire from the military, join politics, stand for election, campaign and are voted into office?
They are basically military men. Their joining politics or controlling events from behind is all about the control of oil. They change alliances depending on where their interests lie. So, Nigeria is being controlled by the military up till today. They are part of every single government and every single decision. It has to favour them.
Are you talking as an insider, giving the fact that you are an ex military man?
It is something that I know very well. I don’t need to mention names but you know what I am talking about. If you don’t dance to their tune, they will sabotage your government. I spoke to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua one-on-one and he told me that there was a military man that was trying to control him from his abode.
Is he from Otta?
No, I don’t need to mention names.
In your opinion, which government was the best since Nigeria attained independence?
The First Republic was the best because they were pre-occuppied with nation building but unfortunately, regional and religious issues cropped up and the military took advantage of that and overthrew the government. They should have allowed things to sort themselves out naturally but the military seized power which led to civil war and the eventual polarisation of the society. So, the military has never been good.
But sometimes it was civilians themselves that invite the military. In 1983, after President Shehu Shagari was re-elected, the losers openly called for military intervention. Do you still blame the military in this kind of situation?
No, even if they are invited, they should have resisted. Will you break into a house if someone asks you to do so? It was wrong for the military to have interfered in politics. Now, they have tasted power, and they don’t want to leave it at all. Most of them are now billionaires. Yes, they are the cabal that people talk about. You can’t go against their interests.
Now that one of their own is President, do you think that they will help President Muhammadu Buhari to succeed or they will sabotage him?
One of two things – he either follows them or they will break him.
So, which scenario do you foresee for Buhari, after more than one year as President. Will he follow them or will they break him?
The people should realise this. They should only vote for people who have nothing to do with the military. They should vote for people who are 100 per cent civilians and these people will ultimately take care of the military’s influence in politics.
But what you are suggesting is like disenfranchising people based on their profession. Is it okay to exclude past military men from politics?
It is okay. These people had interfered in politics for so long. They have stolen peoples’ mandates and wealth with the barrel of the gun. A crime was committed and up till now, nobody has paid for that crime. They have plundered the nation’s wealth, they have enriched themselves and now they are exercising political power, whereby they will not allow anybody that will not conform to their vision of the nation.
What you are advocating for is like a son paying for the crimes of his father. You mean a Captain who retires and wants to join politics should be excluded just because some military men took over power long ago?
No. No. No. I mean military men who have been active players in the political scene from 1966 till date. They are the same people controlling who rules Nigeria. Not the masses. This clique has to approve and support you in order for you to make any headway.
But I thought a religious leader s like you and Christian clergy have more influence on who wins election because you control the minds of the people?
We have influence but it is useless because it is not concentrated. It is scattered. Everybody has his own constituency but he has no influence beyond that. The question confronting us is not about Muslims or Christians ruling the country.
It is about people who have tasted power and have enriched themselves, thereby manipulating Nigerian politics. Until when the masses understand and agree to retire these people from politics completely and leadership comes back to civilians, Nigeria will not progress as it should. For example, in the United States, no General influences the people.
But most of their politicians have military backgrounds…
(Cuts in) Yes, they participate but they don’t control; they don’t appoint and they don’t control oil wells in their country.
Let’s get this straight. If you want to run for the governorship position in Zamfara or Kaduna State for example, do you mean that you should be excluded because you were once in the military?
No. I am not excluding all ex-military men. No. I am referring to those who took over government at one time or the other and tasted political power should be excluded from politics. Otherwise we will continue to have problems because they themselves are in cliques. Their struggle is unhealthy for our nation.
So, if we want Nigeria to heal, we should open a fresh page. We are in 2016 now, we need a new beginning. We need people without baggage to come into the political arena and political stability is very important for economic development. Modern economy is tied to political stability. There are a lot of things that we should consider in politics. We want Nigeria to be stable. We need stability even to practise our religions.
Allah said when you have peace, then establish prayer. So, we should be looking for this peace and not to satisfy people’s ego. Let’s forget about individuals and their ambitions; let’s look for peace in Nigeria; we need it. For example, if you have a cup of water and the sediments settle down, the water will be clean. But when you stir it what will happen? It will become murky.
So, the sediments have started to settle in Nigerian politics. So, you don’t bring someone who will come and stir it. This is what we did. We brought politicians that will stir the water.
Are you saying now that the polity is murky?
Yes, it is murky because the nation is already fragmented and there is vandalisation of pipelines. A wholly civilian President granted the militants amnesty and there was peace.
But a military man with his ego has refused to do that. So, in the choice of a leader, the people should think of what the immediate challenges are before going to the polls. Surgery is a very good treatment but if there is inflammation, once the surgeon puts his knife, and then he is causing more problems. In medicine, you don’t cut an inflamed tissue; you have to give it time before you open it.
So, Nigeria is inflamed, so don’t bring in a surgeon; bring a physician (general laughter). I think the message is clear. And this is where we went wrong and this is what I foresaw before the 2015 elections. Not that I hate anybody.
Is that what you foresaw when you opposed the emergence of Buhari as APC presidential candidate before the election?
Not just Buhari but Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) and Goodluck Jonathan. I opposed Jonathan because he had a baggage because of Boko Haram in the North; how he became lukewarm in fighting it and people were dying everywhere. Then, putting soldiers all over the states in the North, so people were tired of him and they wanted anybody but him.
So, putting Jonathan on the ballot was a bad omen for Nigeria. He had reduced a national party into a sectional party. Fielding Buhari again alienated people of the South. He contested against Jonathan in 2011 and there was violence. So the nation will naturally be polarised because people of the South will do all they can to stop him.
This caused unnecessary tension which was not good for the country. I warned against that, saying that both of them should sacrifice their ambitions for the sake of Nigeria and peace. If none of the two candidates had any baggage, there would have been peace in Nigeria. Take for instance Yar’Adua came without any baggage and he formed a government of national unity and he invited elements from the opposition in the government. He also granted amnesty to Niger Delta militants. Yar’Adua was not corrupt. There was a governor in the opposition party, the then ANPP who told me in Makka that there was not governor that was as prudent as Yar’Adua was. He executed so many projects in Katsina State and even left behind billions of naira for his successor. But Yar’Adua did not make noise about it.
For me who is from the North-East, I will give kudos to this administration for degrading Boko Haram. Right now, my people can sleep with their two eyes closed. What is your assessment of Buhari’s war on terror?
Yes, this government has tried in this regard but maintaining peace in Borno and in the North-East requires a buoyant economy. You should not equate a quick victory as the end of war. More important than defeating Boko Haram is for the economy to be strong enough to maintain security.
It is just like if a rat comes into your sitting room, where you have your TV sets and what have you. The issue is not about killing the rat. If you want to kill it with an iron rod, you will end up breaking your valuables. This is the situation that we have in Nigeria with regards to Boko Haram. The same thing is happening in the war against corruption.
In trying to fight corruption, you end up breaking Nigeria. This is the situation. We are saying this in order to correct the government. This is what we did during the previous government, we tried to correct it every step of the way. The present administration should have peace as its number one priority. Let them forget the past. They should work hard for the future. Every time you hear anything about this administration, it is about what happened in the past.
So, you mean those who looted the economy should be forgiven?
Yes, they should be forgiven and forgotten! If the government is bent on jailing these high profile thieves as you call them, the damage that it will cost the administration will be very high. Let me again use the rat analogy. If you want to kill the rat that has entered your sitting room, you will end up breaking your valuables.
Rather, you should aim at making the room inhabitable so that it will go out by itself, because the looting of the last administration was widespread. It was not confined to just certain people. It involved Muslim clerics, Christian clergymen, politicians, the military and just about every facet of our society. In such a situation, you should just open a new page and continue from there.
If you don’t do that, the war against corruption will consume you. The President should meet with these alleged looters and I bet you most of them will repatriate most of the money back under cover. The President should be political about this. But once he wants to fight them, they have resources to hire the best lawyers and fight back.
Canon Law was derived out of Islamic Law. During the dark ages, the West never knew about law. Islam brought law to them during its incursion in Spain. And it was Maliki Law that went to Europe. Do you know the principles of law in general? It is the law that pronounces guilt. In Islam, you may see someone fornicating but you need four eye-witness to secure a conviction.
If you have three, it is not accepted. But no one doubts that the person has fornicated but because of the absence of the fourth witness, there is no evidence. So, the culprit will be allowed to go. So, someone may loot the economy but once you don’t have that evidence recognised by the law, he is still innocent. So, it is not about condoning corruption.
If a man steals a goat he is imprisoned but here you are saying that someone who stole about $10 million dollars should be allowed to enjoy his loot. Is this fair?
The man who was convicted for stealing a goat, you have evidence against him. But you don’t have evidence against the one who stole $10 million. That is the problem. The high profile thieves abused the trust that Nigerians gave them by abusing their office. The lesson to be learnt here is that next time don’t trust a thief with public office. We have to follow the law. We can’t govern based on what we want to be done. The law has to be followed.