Nigerians now more divided than in 1960: David-West’s last interview

Nigerians now more divided than in 1960: David-West’s last interview

Monday, November 11, 2019 4:00 pm


Tam David-West



Professor Tam David-West, a Nigerian academic, social critic, and former federal minister, died on Monday 11 November 2019 in Ibadan.  He was 83. In his last press interview last year August, when he turned 82, he spoke with TheNEWS correspondent, Gbenro Adesina in Ibadan.  The interview was originally titled, ‘Buhari’s Major Mistake’. It was published in TheNEWS of  August 25, 2018


Q: How are you coping with old age?


A: I will be 82 on August 26 this year,  but I don’t feel old at all. I try as much as possible to stay healthy by taking my medical check-up seriously and the result has always been good and normal whenever I do it. I do my exercise every morning. I jog and I stretch myself. Formerly, I used to do my medical check-up in London but now, I do it in a Lagos based hospital. America Embassy uses the hospital. The hospital is fantastic. I only use glasses when I am writing. My eyes are good.


 Are you happy?


I am very, very happy, absolutely happy with myself. But I am not happy with the country. I am not happy with the present state of the country.


What is the reason behind your happiness?


I am happy with myself because I have not found myself in a situation where I will depend on people for help. Not that I have everything, but God has made me to be self-sufficient. All I need to make life successful and interesting are with me. My children are alright. I eat once a day. I only have lunch in a day. I don’t eat in the morning or in the evening or night. If I eat twice, I will be lazy. I will not be able to work. I sleep four hours a day.


Is that not against medical advice that adults should sleep for at least seven or eight hours in a day?


There is no common law for everybody.


How are you going to celebrate your birthday this year?


First, I thank God for all that He has done for me. My name means there is God. So, in every tribulation, I come out strong. When Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida put me in jail, I said ‘look I am not in jail’ – because I may be physically in jail, but my spirit is free. I have faith in God. I am from a Christian family. My birthday is not a day for party, but a day to thank God.


Why did you say that you are not happy with the country?


A: This has nothing to do with any government. I am a die-hard supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari, but I believe he can do much better. Nigeria that I had in my mind when I was a student is so different from what we have today. I was at Yale when Nigeria became independent.  I was the president of International students in Yale. When we had independence, the international students in Yale held a party for Nigeria. I was very proud of Nigeria. Today, I am proud to be a Nigerian but I am not as proud as I used to be because everything I never thought would happen is happening.




Our leaders are so selfish. This has nothing to do with party affiliation. If somebody is corrupt in party A, he will still be corrupt if he defect to party B. Party don’t make you corrupt, you are corrupt because you are corrupt. You are corrupt because you have no manner or standard. It is not the system that makes you corrupt, it is you that is corrupt and you corrupt the system.


Why are you crying?


I am not crying.


But I can see tears coming out from your eyes?


No. Sometimes ago in Yale, Professor Akin, a brilliant Yoruba man was asked where he was from and he replied that I am a Yorubaman. When I was asked the same question, I only said that I am from Nigeria. After, I told Akin that he should not have been tribalistic he should have just said that he was from Nigeria. But later, I realised that I was only idealistic. Few months later, I told Akin that he was right and I am wrong. Scientists don’t make absolute statement. There are very few Nigerian that say I am Nigerian. They will first say I am Yoruba, I am Fulani, I am Igbo, I am Hausa, I am Ijaw, I am a Kogian, etc. that is the problem in Nigeria. Today, I can tell you that over 90 per cent of Nigerian politicians love themselves not the country.


Is that not exaggerating…


I am humble with the figure, not exaggerative. It is even more than that, but I want to be humble. Truthfully, we don’t have up to five per cent of Nigerian politicians that love Nigeria. If they love the country, they will not do what they are doing. How will you be happy that government can’t pay N18, 000 minimum wage and public office holders earn millions of naira monthly? How can one be happy when Nigerian lawmakers earn three times more than America lawmakers? A Nigerian senator can employ three American presidents. Sometimes ago, I had a confrontation with a senator. I asked him if he was not ashamed that they wanted to pass a bill to be paid wardrobe allowance. I asked if they campaigned to be a senator naked. If the answer is no, why are they asking for wardrobe allowance? I told him that they are not honest and they do not love Nigeria. The mere fact that they ask for such, shows that they are corrupt. How can a lawmaker say I need allowance for wardrobe? Nigerian senators are the highest paid senators in the world.  There is this stupid argument that the cost of running government is high because we are running presidential system of government.  Are we the only nation running presidential system of government? The running cost is high because of corruption. America has been running presidential system for over 231 years and they don’t do what we do. It is a lie that the military chose presidential system. Nigeria chose it. I was a member of the 50 man committee that drafted it. We had about 300 memos from the public and most of them prefer presidential to parliamentary. More than 60 per cent chose presidential system. Muritala Muhammed that inaugurated us gave us free hand to operate. He didn’t influence our sitting or recommendations. The committee is composed of people of integrity including Bola Ige, Baba Obafemi Awolowo refused and gave a reason which I don’t believe is very honourable, Chief Richard Akinjide, Alhaji Aminu Kano. FRA Williams chaired it. We were not telly guided.  After we finished the draft, over 200 members of the national assembly endorsed presidential system. Daily Times went round the country, state by state, everybody voted for presidential system. The 1979 constitution was more rigorously pursued than American constitution of 1787. The difference is that those that drafted the American constitution love America.  The people in power make the system expensive. They love themselves more than the country. Until that change, we are going nowhere.


What are the other things that are making you sad about Nigeria?


The followership – we say Nigeria has leadership problem, but Nigeria also has followership problem. Followership can change leadership by committed protest. Abroad, some people protest even in winter and they will not stop the protest until they bring down the government. Responsible followership can effect a change of government. In Nigeria’s situation, the followership is more to blame. This is a reversal of what everybody believes. I believe in followership more than leadership. Why do I say that? If you have a very committed followership, no matter what the leader is, he will come down.


In the midst of hunger, how do you expect followership to do anything meaningful?


Look, few days ago, a country in North America changed her policy because people said they are not happy. To show that followership matters, before independence, Nigeria was to have a defence pact with Britain to establish military base in Nigeria, the students of University of Ibadan marched to Lagos and made it impossible, because they felt that such a thing would erode our independence. They fought the Federal Government to stop it and it was stopped. Aba women protest in 1929 against law tax, the same thing in Abeokuta. Followership can change leadership. Followership has more responsibility.


Are you saying that both leadership and followership are not responsible in Nigeria and that they don’t know what to do?


A: They know what they should do, but they don’t want to do it because they are selfish. Followership and leadership are selfish. Leadership is selfish because they want to get everything for themselves and followership is selfish because they are not ready to sacrifice to force the leadership to toe the path of honour.


What is your take on the defection that is ravaging the nation?


Nnamdi Azikwe calls political defectors political harlots and that confirms part of the reasons why I said that I am not happy with Nigeria. Nigeria is a great country. God has made us great by endowment, size, intelligence but we have messed it up. We are not a giant of Africa but an ant of Africa because all the things that make us giant are given to us by God not by our own doing or effort. Lot of things will change if the followership is committed. Followership has more blame than leadership. If followership is committed, no amount of money can buy them. There is no amount of money that can bribe an honest committed man. If leaders give you money to change your mind and things go wrong for the nation, don’t blame leaders, blame yourself. Not to be corrupt is a moral issue. If a leader comes to give you money to do what is wrong and you take the money and mortgage the future of generations unborn, blame yourself, don’t blame the leader. The money he is giving you is the money he stole from you.


 What is your comment concerning the issues Chinua Achebe raised in his memoir, “There was a Country”?


You can’t fault Achebe at all on those issues. Achebe is not only the greatest writer I respect in Nigeria, he was among the greatest writers and thinkers. I believe everything he writes in the book.


What about the claim of genocide?


What Achebe calls genocide is recklessness to me. I don’t believe that the problem during the civil war is genocide. There were about two  million causalities of the war. I don’t believe that Nigeria government sat down to say that the way to defeat Biafrans is to kill them. I don’t believe that.


 Do you believe the allegation in the book that Awolowo initiated policy of genocide against the Igbos?


Rubbish. Baba Awolowo is one of our heroes. In fact, he wanted me to contest the governorship of River State under UPN platform and I said that I don’t want to belong to any party. Awolowo is a man I so much respect. There are few things baba did that I do not like, but as a leader I consider him as one of the most committed if not the best leader in Nigeria.


Do you also believe that the Nigerian coloniser, Great Britain caused the problem the nation is facing now?


Britain has nothing to do with it. If Britain caused the problem, why are you celebrating 100 years of 1914? We should blame ourselves for the problem we are going through. If Britain says that we should put our hands in the fire and we do it, then you blame yourself for your stupidity.  


What if it is at a gunpoint?


Britain never fought any war here. We got our independence without gun. Nigeria got her independence on the platter of gold. Something that you have without struggling, you may not value it. The difficult attainment creates the value of an object. Nigeria never fought war to get independence. We got independence through ‘ jaw – jaw not through war war’. We should not blame Britain for what we are going through. If you blame Britain, it is self-indictment. We have being independent since 1960. This is 2018 and you are still blaming Britain, are you dummies? Why can’t you change? They are blaming Lord Lugard. Don’t blame Lugard. Lugard did what he was sent to do. If Nigeria is like this, don’t blame Britain at all. Why is Ghana doing better than us? Ghana is doing better than Nigeria. Ghanaians are so proud of their country. Ghana suffered more to get independence than Nigeria. All we do in Nigeria is to praise. Britain is not our problem, our problem is ourselves.


If you are asked today the question that you were asked then, that where are you from, what will be your answer?


I will say I am an Ijaw from Nigeria.


 You are now more conscious of your origin?


I will say I am a Nigerian. I will say I am an Ijaw from Nigeria.

Are things that bad?


A: Yes. I will say I am an Ijaw from Nigeria.


It shows that Nigeria is more divided than before?


We are more divided than when we got our independence


So, is it a better option to reverse to before 1914?


Never. I believe in the unity of Nigeria.


But it is not working as you have pointed out?


It is not working because we don’t want it to work.


How can we make it work?


Nigeria has over 300 ethnic groups. If all these groups should go their ways, we will suffer more. One say Nigeria is like mosaic. The mosaic is beautiful if it is together, take one part off, all of them will crumble. Nigeria is better united. We can correct our mistakes




We can correct it by purging ourselves. Can anyone believe that Chief Awolowo once supported Enest Ikoli, an Ijaw to go to Legislative Council against Samuel Akisanya from Ijebu ? There is intrinsic greatness in Nigeria, but we are messing it up. Some people claim that Awolowo is a tribalist. For me, Awolowo is a nationalist, not a tribalist. I can’t call him a tribalist. In the other way round, Zik supported Akisanya, not Ikoli. We are the one to blame. It is unknowledgeable people that are making the stupid statement that Britain caused our problem. Lugard was sent to amalgamate the North and the South for administrative convenience. Don’t blame Lugard. Lugard did what he was sent to do. After Lugard, what did we do for ourselves? Nation is created by people, not by those abroad. Nigerians have not been able to create a nation of their own.


Are you saying that Nigeria is a mere geographical expression, an opinion expressed by Awolowo?

Every country is a geographical expression. Awolowo said it in his book, Path to Nigeria Freedom. Many people are not fair to Awolowo because he explained what he meant by geographical expression which people do not pay attention to. He explained that people within the geographical expression make a nation. So, every country is a geographical expression. Britain, America and others are geographical expressions bound by latitude and longitude. But the people themselves now should make themselves a nation. That is what Awolowo is saying. We are not a nation. We are not able to make a nation out of ourselves but every country is a geographical expression by God.


Are you saying that Nigeria is yet to be a nation?


Absolutely. Nigeria is not a nation but a conglomeration of ethnic groups. The reason is that each Nigerian is more committed to ethnic background and it will continue to be like this except we purge ourselves. How long will it go, I don’t know?


Do you believe that Awolowo is a best president we never had?


I don’t. He is equal among equal. He has his own politics that are unique. He is the most hardworking.


If we have had him as a president, will it have made things better?


It is hypothetical. The answer is yes and no. In terms of vision, I will say yes. Awolowo has a very good and robust vision. He is good leader. He is certainly one of the best. Awolowo, Zik and Saundana are great men.


How do you rate them?


It is very difficult to rate them. Among the three, Awolowo has the best administrative style, Zik has a very robust philosophy and Saudana, I am proud of him too because he made Northerners proud.


Did we lose anything for not having Awolowo as a president?


We did, because if he was elected a president, one thing he could have done from his record is that he would have brought better committed administrative style of government. He demonstrated this during the civil war. Yakubu Gowon made him deputy chairman of executive council but Gowon never allowed him to act for one day. We executed a civil war for about 30 months without borrowing money. Awolowo was in charge of finance. Even when Britain was strangulating us, Russia came, Awolowo never borrowed a dime and the civil war was executed successfully. He is a good manager.


Do you think that Odumegwu Ojukwu was right to have called for that war?


Yes and no. Yes, because the North caused it. A lot of southerners were killed in the North and they had to run away from the North to the South. Ojukwu now took over the leadership mantle. Ojukwu had a meeting with Gowon in Aburi. Gowon agreed on many things, which he later regretted. When Ojukwu now said that ‘on Aburi we stand’, it led to war. One major mistake of Ojukwu is that he has personal ambition and he allowed his personal ambition to override the reason for the necessity of the war. But for the cause, I can’t fault Ojukwu. Why do I say so? First, few days before Ojukwu declared session, Gowon created 12 states, fantastic. Biafrans lost the civil war because of the creation of the states. We minority were suppressed.  Gowon knew the problem in the East. Ojukwu was claiming the whole of the East was under him, but Gowon knew that wasn’t true. He created the 12 states and took the minority out of the so called Biafra and oil is from the minority. With that, he broke Ojukwu’s back. Ojukwu made another mistake. He has personal ambition to rule Nigeria and Nigeria cannot be ruled by force. Another mistake he made was when he turned down the offer of Gowon to negotiate with the Biafrans. He should have come to the table. If he had got to the table, he would have got a lot of things for the East. He would have got more autonomy and devolution. He prolonged the war. He should have opted for negotiation rather than making up his mind to go to war. If at that time, he backed pedal and sat down with the federal government and Gowon, he would have got a lot and East would have enjoyed more autonomy. Another mistake where he showed his personal ambition is that at a point, Emmanuel Ifeajuna realised that they should negotiate with the government and Ojukwu never liked that. He referred to Ifeajuna as a traitor and executed him. Banjo also attempted his own enclave within Biafran with the aim of negotiating with the government for the interest of the Igbos. This, Ojukwu also consider not good for him and he equally saw Banjo as a traitor and he shot him and Sam Agbamuche.


Do you believe in restructuring?


Yes, I believe that Nigeria must be restructured. Each Nigerian has his/her own definition of restructuring. I don’t believe in political immature restructuring. The argument that the centre is too strong is stupid. If the centre is too strong, who do you blame?  Followership should be blamed. The constitution is clear. By the constitution, we are supposed to be a federation and so if our leaders have disallowed that to work and we fold our arms and do nothing, who do we blame? – we who have decided to be docile in the affairs of the country. The executive will always want to pocket the legislature and judiciary and Olusegun Obasanjo is guilty of this. They don’t want separation of power. The defection we are witnessing today is started by Obasanjo. Also, if the centre is too powerful, don’t blame the federal government, blame the states and the followers that are so weak.


Are you calling on the followership to be bold to challenge the leadership with the aim of correcting the imbalances in the society?


Exactly. That is what I am saying.


Some are asking for regionalism, do you believe that?




Some are asking for state police?


On the surface, state police is good, because it will make security to be closer to the people and that head of police in the state should look up to the governor for instruction. But how are we sure that the state would not abuse this privilege and use it to subvert the system? The truth is that in Nigeria, police is politically used for personal corrupt purposes.


Do you agree that more power should be given to the state?


The state should know that if they don’t fight for devolution, the federal government will not throw away the power it is enjoying. The states should fight for the devolution constitutionally and judicially. The point is that the Nigerian presidential system is only by name, not by practice.


What is your view concerning ranches?


Anyone that suggested ranches to Buhari does not have Buhari’s interest at heart and such is creating bad image for him. To ask all the states to have ranches is suggestive and that is too dangerous for Nigeria. Don’t forget that this is a religious and ethnic sensitive nation. Any president that decides to use its power to create ranches in all the states, in the South West and East will be seen as Islamising Nigeria. In a clear term, I do not support ranches to be created in the states that do not want it. Now talking about the activities of the cattle rearers, these were pleasant people before. We were playing with them before. When we were younger, they only go about with their sticks and small knives to protect themselves against dangerous animals in the bush. The question is that at what point did they think of carrying guns like AK 47? What are they using it for? Can they afford it? If not, who are the people that are buying it for them? Ordinarily, cattle rearers don’t need gun and now that they have it, we need to accept the fact that it is the politicians that are buying it for them to cause problem in the country. The crises we are witnessing today are politically motivated. For me the solution to series of killing in the country is not the creation of ranches, but punishing people behind them.


Are you saying that the current government should not force ranches on the state?


No, it should not do it.


You were so sure that if Buhari becomes president, the price of petrol will go down. Now it did not materialise. How do you feel?


I feel very bad. However, until we have our refineries, it will be difficult to have reasonable price for petrol. One major mistake that Buhari made is that he delayed in the appointment of his cabinet members, his ministers, for six months. When I was a minister, somebody came to me and said if you can’t get your bearing within six months, you can’t get it again. This is true. The delay in appointing his ministers within the first six month is unnecessary. Within a month he should have gotten his ministers. Some people are determined not to make things work for Buhari and I believe that some people gained from the delay in the appointment of the ministers. Most of the things we are suffering now have a root in the delay of his ministers. I have told him that some people who are working with him are working against him. They are fifth columnists. They are working for themselves. I still have confidence in Buhari.


People are suffering. Is he doing well?


I will not give him A, but I can give him B or B+. I can’t give him F.


B and B+ by my understanding is 60 per cent and above. Buhari is a retired general who should score A or A+ in the provision of adequate security for Nigerians. Now, are you awarding him B or B+ despite his failure to provide security in the country?


That is the basic problem Buhari is facing. To operate as a military head of state is different from operating as a civilian president, though with military background. As a military head of state, within few minutes at state council meeting, decisions have been reached on how to tackle a problem but in a democratic environment, it takes days and months. I believe that a lot of things can be done better, but unfortunately, these are things he can’t do alone.


Do you think Buhari can win the 2019 presidential election?


He is likely to win. I have not written him off.


Do you think he is fit health wise?


Buhari has the ability to rule this country. Look, Malaysians have just appointed a 93 year old man as a Prime Minister. Buhari is healthy enough to rule the country.


Will there be adverse effect if Buhari losses the next election?


A: If there will be crisis, it will not be crisis caused by Buhari. But let me reiterate that I have not written him off that he can’t win. The question is that who is the alternative to Buhari now? Do we have alternative to Buhari?  He is likely going to win not because his administration has done everything well for us to be happy but his chances of winning are better because there is no alternative now. Those that want him to go, who do they have that we can compare with him? If there is no alternative to him, then those that are saying that he should go are not serious. His greatest strength and advantage is integrity. Those that want his position can compete with him in the area of integrity.


What is your assessment of legislators at all level?


All of them are bunch of unserious people. When I watched the television and see what is happening in the legislature, I feel ashamed. They fight in the House and some of them sleep when serious issues are being discussed. Can you compare what is happening in our legislative chamber to what is happening in the legislative chamber of America?  I met a Nigerian senator who has not read the nation’s constitution which he wanted to discuss on the television.


Since Buhari became a president, do you talk?


Yes, I talk with him and told him my mind but I have refused to be frequent with him. He is a very accommodating person and he knows where I stand. I tell him the truth.


 What truth have you told him?


I told him that people are suffering.


What was his reply?


He said that he has empathy for what is happening. He met empty treasury. He said if Nigeria has continued with Jonathan for four months, the country would have been declared bankrupt. He respects my view. He knows that to be his friend is to be telling him that he is not perfect.


What are the faults you think Buhari has?


I always say, defecation for human being is as bad as desecration of holy person.


What does that mean?


It means that no human being is perfect. If you are somebody’s friend, you must have the courage to tell him that you are not God and so you can’t be perfect. Tell him this is the area you are good and this is the area you are bad.


What are the areas that you want him to improve on?


There is no question about the fact that he can make changes in his team to be more effective to create a better governance. I am not looking for a job but I feel pained that some of them are not working to improve the system for him. Some of them are very good and some should do better. Again, I want to tell him not to trust too much. If Buhari believes in you, it is 100 per cent and he finds it difficult to change. He is a very brilliant man. He should replace people that are not producing. I have said it that no government does everything and no government does everything. He has done very well in some areas but there are lots of areas to be improved. Security should be better. Buhari is still the same. He has not been corrupted. He has not change his simple style of life to flamboyance. His integrity is intact, but he should use these credentials for positive and tangible things.


Buhari empowers the youth alone, is it a crime to be an adult?


There is too much emphasis on the youth. The question is not age, it is competence. Things should not be based on age, but competence. Everybody should be empowered and encouraged and let them have a sense of belonging. Nigeria has not elected a minority president through Jonathan. Jonathan is not a minority president elected by Nigerians. Obama is not African American of Martin Luther King’s dream. American has not elected an African American of Martin Luther King’s dream. Martin Luther King’s speech, ‘I have a dream’ made in 1916 said that I have a dream that one day my little children will be judged by the content of their characters, not by their colours. He was talking about the descendant of slave. Obama is not a descendant of slave. Obama’s father is a Kenyan, his mother is white. Obama is partly white, partly African. If Jesse Jackson had won that time, that is a descendant of slave. Nigeria has not elected minority president through Jonathan. Jonathan was a creation of Obasanjo conveniently. When Buhari was contesting, Jonathan sent a delegate to me and I said tell him I am not against him, and I will never do anything to pull him down. However, if I see people pulling him down, I will not stop them because he is not doing well and by extension he was not creating a good image for the minority. Politics without ethical imperative is dangerous. A man without principle is worse than a goat.  Take religion out of politics, take religion into politics. Anybody that does not have ethical imperative should not come near government. If you don’t have moral strength, you can steal, you can kill, and you can commit fraud.


Do you think terrorism has come to stay in Nigeria?


No. it will fizzle out soon. If government wants to stop terrorism, government can stop it in days. I hope the government has plans to stop this because with terrorism, insecurity, lack of food is dangerous for the nation and the president.


What is your advice as the nation is approaching 2019?


People should vote according to their conscience. Don’t vote because they have given you money. If what we read about what happened in Ekiti during the election is true, it is terrible.


What do you think about the position of Obasanjo of a recent?


What Obasanjo is saying and doing is right, but he overdramatize. Does he have a moral right to say it? He has no moral right to say what he is saying. Was he better?  No. He has a good cause but his approach is very bad. I know some people go against Buhari because they did not get the favour they want from him.


From now on how do you intend to spend your life?


Writing. I will write till I die. There is no rest until I die. I am writing a book titled, “My Testimony as Christian”. God has done so much for me. I survived near accident, fire, armed robbers and other terrible situations.


Are you using computer to write?


Long hand. I am not a computer person.


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