As 29 May, the day all eyes in the world will focus on Nigeria, approaches, notable Nigerians have continued to set agenda for General Muhammadu Buhari,the president-elect, the man whose shoulder will bear the responsibility of fixing a country which has been battered for 16 years. Among these Nigerians is Junaid Salik Muhammed. His philosophy of politics is based on social conscience: that there would be a government not based on the selfish interest of the very few but on the maxim of Social Contract which provides means for the common man to live comfortably.
Born in the tiny community of Sankin in the old city of Kano, now in Dala Local Government Area, Muhammed, after his primary and post-primary education in Kano, left the shores of Nigeria in 1969 for the Soviet Union, where he obtained M.D. First Class Honours in Surgery, Internal Medicine Gynecology, Hygiene and Public Health at Kharkov State University. He also had his Post Graduate Certificate at London University Institute of Neurology, with specialization on Nervous Diseases in 1978. Apart from serving as a lecturer in Neurology at The Royal University of Hong Kong in 1979, Junaid worked in different capacities as both medical practitioner and an academic at different institutes and organizations in the old Soviet Union.
In the Nigerian political landscape, Muhammed is not a small fry. As a prominent member of the Second Republic House of Representatives, young Muhammed was a founding member of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, in 1979 on which platform he was elected into the House in the first and second segments of the Second Republic. From 1979 to 1984, he was the National Director, Research and Party Education of the PRP, during which period he also doubled as the Kano State Secretary of the party. Throughout the Second Republic government, he was the PRP Chief Whip and Parliamentary Party Leader. From 1980 to 1984, Muhammed also served as the Deputy National Secretary-General of PRP, reputed as one of the best opposition parties ever in West Africa.
At the inception of the House in 1979, Muhammed was nominated as the House Chairman, Foreign Relations Sub-committee on International Organisations, International Economic Relations, and Socialist Block. He was made a substantive chairman of the Committee in 1980, a position he held until when the military struck in 1984. One of the vocal voices in the Second Republic legislative arm, Muhammed was member: House Committee on Selection; Finance and Appropriation Committee; Committee on Health; Committee on Science and Technology; Joint Committee on Intelligence and National Security.
Brought up under the tutelage of a father who was a chieftain of Northern Element Progressive Union, NEPU, Muhammed, like his late father, belongs in the school of thought of the late Malam Aminu Kano. Muhammed was the national leader of the defunct Peoples Salvation Party, PSP, in the last dispensation. During General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s military regime, Muhammed at one time, served as Chairman, National Orientation Agency, NOA, and Commissioner, Business and Commercial Transactions of Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission OMPADEC. It was his late friend, Senator Uche Chukwumerije who was then Minister of Information who persuaded him to serve as chairman of NOA, during Babangida’s government. In fact, Muhammed was badly hit by the death of Chukwumerije, an incident which almost made this interview impossible, but for the persistence of our correspondent.
Muhammed and Chukwumerije are long-term close friends, “he is like a brother to me; and I mourn him bitterly,” he told our correspondent. Muhammed also served briefly in ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Think-Tank— Independent Policy Group, IPG. He said: “The first head of the IPG was Prof. Dotun Philips who was succeeded by the Professor Bade Onimode. In the course of my service at the Think-Tank as Policy Advisor on Poverty Alleviation, I found out that Obasanjo had changed. He was becoming rude, though not to me. He was becoming crooked in financial matters. When I realized that Obasanjo was too far gone and his government was a disaster in waiting, I resigned and came back home to Kano.”
On how Buhari can redeem Nigeria, Muhammed who accused Service Chiefs of looting Nigeria blind in the pretence of fighting Boko Haram, advocated a total purge of the Nigerian Army and other Forces, insisting that General Buhari must investigate, prosecute and jail corrupt politicians and public office holders. Muhammed also told MADUABUCHI NMERIBEH that in the next dispensation when APC will hold sway, Nigeria needs one or two strong opposition parties; but not the PDP, a party he wishes a final burial.
By 29 May, General Muhammadu Buhari will take the mantle as the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. What do you think should be his agenda to build a better Nigeria?
Well, I am not sure how realistic that is. You understand that I cannot sit in the comfort of my own room and dictate to General Buhari the enormous responsibility of being the Chief Executive of this country, and to tell him what and what should be his agenda. But I am a citizen of this country, and I have certain rights. Also, General Buhari’s administration is going to be my government, your government and the government of every Nigerian. And to the extent that a citizen will have the right in a democracy to tell our leaders what we think are the priorities of government and the business of governance, I will try. But I am not guaranteeing you that what I tell you will be essentially Buhari’s own agenda or the agenda of his party and all those who are part of his inner circle. But, as a citizen, I mean, I will try my best.
The question itself is loaded. Because, when you are talking about the programmes of an in-coming government, you are talking of not just about one issue, you are talking about clustered issues. One, the President himself has to identify and find out the important areas of public administration, public management, resource orientation and so on and so forth.
Number two, what he as a person and as a politician has done in terms of thinking through the programmes together with his own party; together with his own think-tanks; and together with other people who are his own advisers—known or unknown. Thirdly, there is also the overriding reality of the government! Nobody who is outside the government can tell you he knows everything that is in there. And very many politicians, in fact, the majority of the politicians, in spite of their promises, in spite of their goodwill, find out that what they have promised the people, what their party has promised the country, and the world is vastly different from the reality which hit them in their new days in office. And that is very important.
So, I am not in government, but I can only guess, having been there some time in the past, that a lot of the promises made by Buhari may not be translatable in the manner he wishes them to be translatable, simply because, one: the economic profile and the resource situation in the country are going to be vastly different from what he had known or had imagined when he came into politics. Number two: Buhari must have known, as a former Oil Minister himself, that the bulk of our Foreign Exchange earnings is dependent on oil and that the oil situation from the beginning of the campaigns sometime last year to date, is totally different from what is then and what it is now. At the time Buhari started his campaign at about six months ago or thereabout, the price of a barrel of crude oil was $120, but today it is still hovering around $50, $55! And nobody can guarantee that it will stabilize at that price, even though certain powers—especially, the United States of America and the big oil companies—which are mostly Europeans and Americans; and of course, the Saudi Arabia errand boys of the United States, have determined to stabilize the price of crude oil at around $50 and $55. This is simply because it suits their own national interest and it suits their own national economies to have the oil price not fall below $50, $55.
Now, if you are talking about the price of a commodity which was $120 per barrel about six months ago and it is now $50 or thereabout, you can see there is a huge difference in terms of the stark economic realities, and in revenue profiling which you have to confront yourself with when you find yourself in government—that is number one.
Number two, it has since become a cliché, even among rogues and scoundrels who are now in government (and I thank God that they are leaving), that corruption is the number one problem of Nigeria. Now, Buhari has had a reputation for being seen and perceived to be a very honest person and honest in fighting corruption. But from the time Buhari, got elected to date, the level or the perception of corruption within Nigeria and about Nigeria by the international community and our trading partners has got a lot worse. In fact, what we now see is worse than what everybody and anybody could have imagined. Now the trillions that are being spoken about and being spent on election campaigns are nothing but a national disgrace and an international scandal. A nation with our own resource base cannot justify spending that amount of money at the national level simply to pick an individual or maintain an individual as the President of this country. That is an issue.
Besides, we had first thought that corruption was only one problem or part of the major problems of nation building—but we are now beginning to realize that in everything that we do or we don’t do, corruption rears its ugly head! And this means that if you are now going to fight corruption, you must be prepared to fight a hydra-headed monster whose tentacles have spread into every singular activity you are going to have to confront yourself with during the period you are in government. And that is not an easy task, it is going to be a very tough task for Buhari. In addition, on the issue of corruption, many of the people who claim to be soul-mates of Buhari, in terms of commitment to fighting corruption are themselves very corrupt! So, Buhari will have to be very careful because you don’t know who is actually with you in spirit and who is with you only in the way they verbalize that corruption is the problem. In fact, there are many within the party, APC; and in particular, within the PDP who believe that the whole talk about corruption is nothing but a waste of time. That is, they believe that corruption is a way of life for Nigerians, that it is nothing but kola, you know; and therefore, we need not bother ourselves, that it is our own way of doing business!
That is a very dangerous thing because unless corruption is tackled, there is nothing that is going to happen about Nigeria’s development. What they were talking, what we are talking now, will be what we are going to talk about in the next 20, 30 and 50 years—unless corruption is tackled. It has to be confronted and we have to prevail on it before we can even begin to talk about any other problem.
Then, of course, as an issue, in terms of where we are as a developing country, we know and history, political science and political economics have taught us in normal, certain terms that no country can develop, unless it develops its infrastructure. In simple terms, issues like highways, dams, ports and wharfs, airports, waterways, water, communications, airways and above all, electric power are absolutely vital and absolutely indispensable to any nation’s development. And I give you a simple example, most of the develop countries in the world today have exhausted more than 60 per cent of their potentials for electrical development. In the case of Nigeria which is an African country and in the case of the whole of Africa, we have only exploited one per cent of our potentials for electric power development, which goes to prove that the potentials here are enormous, but the need for investment for these potentials to translate into reality is massive. And there has to be a very determined leadership that can make it happen.
Finally, and I have been saying this for the past 30 years, that for Nigeria to develop, and for Nigeria to prevail on all or any of her problems, there has to be what I have always regarded as elite political consensus. The elite have to be serious, they have to be sincere, and they have to be committed. Take any country in the world today where development, I mean meaningful development has happened: I give you recent ones—the Peoples Republic of China, India, these are all civilizations which have been hamstrung by poverty, by illiteracy, by hunger. For a period of five to seven millennia, there was never a year which China did not have a major famine in the country, but from the Chinese revolution of 1949 to date, there has never been a major famine in China and that is a huge achievement.
In addition, within a period of 30 years, from 1980s to 2010, China has succeeded in taking out of poverty over 350 million people; people whose means of livelihood could be measured in what they were able to earn and spend within one Dollar a day. Now these people are approaching middle-class and some of them are already in middle-class—this is a huge achievement. And if you look at a country like India, their achievements in terms of fighting poverty and development are modest, but it is still huge, given the fact that you are talking about a country with the population of 1.1 billion people. Another country like Brazil has developed. It has its own problems, but it is among the countries moving forward in terms of development. Then, look at some of the smaller countries, Cuba since the revolution of 1959 has been a great country and has maintained a good standard of living in spite of their poverty. It has maintained a standard of education and medical services at par with the northern European countries, particularly. Today, the life expectancy in Cuba is about the same thing with the life expectancy in Sweden, Norway and some of those developed countries. It is also about the same thing with life expectancy in America. In fact, there are people in America whose life expectancy is much less than that of the Cubans in spite of their enormous resources; and of course, efficient imposition of economic brocade on the country (America) itself.
So, for us to even begin to imagine that we can move somewhere, the Nigerian elite, the political class and other members of the Nigerian project—whether they are business men, professionals, whether they are politicians or non-politicians, whether investors or business men, we must have to sit down and face our problems squarely and accept these:
A: the nature of the problem. B: the way we are going to have to go about solving the problem or overcoming the problem. You see, this is not an easy question to answer; because number one, I am not Buhari; and two, he has lots of problems to solve—I mean, lots of overhangs which he has to confront himself. But one thing I can say, however, is that capitalism, as known throughout history, has only succeeded in developing a certain group of people or a certain class. And capitalism has never succeeded in defeating poverty; and those who imagine that our problems lies in blindly following the dictates of the IMF and World Bank and of course, some other dictates by the western countries who are all themselves very capitalistic, are making a very serious mistake. And we have seen the lies we have been getting from the likes of the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and others about capitalism.
Capitalism has not solved the problems of the West. Remember the economic melt-down which came in 2008—it is an indication that capitalism no matter how advanced, is not a reliable factor in guaranteeing people’s development. And as long as you have capitalism, certain greedy class will always continue to snatch or seize the potentials for the development of the country; and it is a very very serious problem to imagine that by following capitalist dictates of the IMF, the World Bank, the US Treasury and the World Trade Organization—that through what they dictate we are going to be developed, that will be unrealistic, because none of the countries that I mentioned blindly followed the dictates of these institutions that are all situated in Washington D.C., but they succeeded.
We have to find our own way of doing things; and we don’t have to follow blindly what these people are dictating because they are dictating their own interest, they are not dictating our own interest. We have to be very careful about it.